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Tuesday Bird Droppings: Thinking about dominant games from Orioles hitters

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Quite a few O’s hitters have put up stellar single-game performances over the years. What’s your favorite?

Chicago White Sox v Baltimore Orioles
Albert Belle: not a good guy. But he sure could hit.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

As we wait impatiently for the 2021 Orioles season to begin, now’s as good a time as any to reminisce about some great games of Orioles past. Specifically, great games by individual Orioles hitters.

MLB.com’s Joe Trezza offered his ranking of the Birds’ five best single-game performances by a hitter. His list is pretty strong. There’s Cal Ripken Jr.’s six-hit explosion in Atlanta in 1999. Eddie Murray’s three-homer, nine-RBI slugfest in 1985 in which he just missed a fourth roundtripper. Chris Hoiles’ two-grand slam game in Cleveland in 1998. Manny Machado’s walkoff grand slam against the Angels in 2017, capping a three-homer night.

Of course, there’s plenty more that didn’t make the cut. One that jumps immediately to my mind is Albert Belle against the Angels on July 25, 1999, a game I had the good fortune of attending. Belle cracked three home runs that afternoon, each more important than the last — a two-run shot in the first that ate into a 3-0 deficit, a three-run blast in the seventh that cut a four-run Angels lead to just one, and finally a game-tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Belle was a one-man wrecking crew that day.

And Belle’s final at-bat, in the 11th, was even more exciting than any of the long balls. With a man aboard and a chance to be the walkoff hero, he was hit by a pitch...but he simply refused to go to first base, instead wanting to continue taking his hacks. Belle grumbled and protested and glared angrily at the pitcher for a good five minutes before the umpire finally forced him to take his base. The O’s won later that inning on a Ripken RBI single.

Speaking of late-inning heroics, Trey Mancini stole the show against the Pirates on June 7, 2017, first tying the game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out, two-run homer, then winning it with a three-run blast in the 11th. Mike Young did something similar on May 28, 1987, except both his home runs came in extra innings — a game-tying solo shot in the 10th, then a walkoff in the 12th.

There are plenty more outstanding offensive performances you could choose. Five Orioles have hit for the cycle. Twenty-three have had three-homer games; 20 have had seven or more RBIs. And by Win Probability Added, the most clutch performance in O’s history came from Nelson Cruz on Sept. 7, 2014 in Tampa. He not only drove in all seven of the Birds’ runs, but he got them at the most opportune times, tying the game with a three-run triple in the top of the ninth and winning it with a two-run homer in the 11th.

What about you, Camden Chatters? What’s the best single-game performance you’ve ever seen from an Orioles hitter?

Links

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Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! Six former Orioles were born on this day, the most recent being Hyun Soo Kim (33), who spent parts of two seasons with the Birds after a stellar KBO career. I maintain that Kim wasn’t given a fair shake by then-manager Buck Showalter, though he probably wouldn’t have been a star either way. He’s now back in Korea and thriving, batting .331/.397/.523 with 22 homers and 119 RBIs for the LG Twins last year.

Other ex-Orioles celebrating birthdays today are one-time closer turned brewery owner Chris Ray (39), righty reliever Luis Ayala (43), infielders Tim Hulett (61) and Juan Bonilla (65), and #teampaul member Paul Gilliford (76), who pitched in two games for the 1967 Orioles.

On this day in 1983, the obvious became official, as Orioles legend Brooks Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 16-time Gold Glover and 18-time All-Star was named on 92 percent of the ballots, at that point the ninth highest total in history.