It’s Cedric Mullins’ world, and we’re all just living in it.
You couldn’t have scripted a more perfect night for the Orioles’ breakout star. Mullins blasted two home runs — one to start the Birds’ scoring and one to put an emphatic cap on the festivities — all while an exuberant, season-high crowd at Camden Yards celebrated Cedric Mullins t-shirt night.
Even the normally reserved Mullins couldn’t help but pop out of the dugout for a curtain call after his second blast, acknowledging the long and loud standing ovation from the raucous O’s fans.
By all rights, the O’s standout center fielder should be starting the All-Star Game next month. Whether that happens remains to be seen. In the meantime, he carried the club on his shoulders yet again, cutting down the Orioles’ eight-game losing streak with a 7-1 victory over the Blue Jays.
He’s hitting .322 with an AL-best 84 hits. He’s got a .935 OPS. He’s playing an elite center field. And, oh yes, Mullins also has double-digit home runs, a mark he reached tonight with his leadoff blast against Blue Jays lefty Robbie Ray. And he was just getting started.
Before we return to Cedric’s heroics, though, let’s give a shout-out to emergency starter Thomas Eshelman. On paper, the Orioles, losers of eight in a row, probably wouldn’t have made Eshelman their first choice to play stopper. The right-hander, who turns 27 in two days, was removed from the Orioles’ 40-man roster last winter after posting a 5.22 ERA in 2019-20 with the club, and was muddling through an uninspiring 0-3, 6.41 season at Triple-A Norfolk. He was thrust into unexpected duty after Bruce Zimmermann’s left biceps tendinitis landed him on the injured list.
But you guys? Eshelman was awesome tonight. He set the tone for his evening by setting down the Jays 1-2-3 on 11 pitches in the first, with nothing hit out of the infield, then worked past a walk in the second by retiring the other three batters on eight pitches. Two more grounders and a strikeout populated his perfect, nine-pitch third inning, and he needed only nine more to get the next three outs in the fourth. The most prolific home run-hitting lineup in baseball found itself utterly stymied by Eshelman’s assortment of slop, with a fastball topping out at 90 mph (which is actually on the high side for him), mixed with a slider, changeup, and curve.
Eshelman, who’d allowed just one baserunner through the fourth, was three outs away from triggering the “No-Hitter Alert” on MLB’s GameDay app, at which point baseball fans all across the country would’ve checked the live box score and said aloud, “Who the heck is T. Eshelman?” Alas, it wasn’t to be. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. broke up the no-no and the shutout in one fell swoop, crushing a 409-foot homer into the left-field seats in the fifth.
From there, things deteriorated a bit. Joe Panik smoked a single to right, and Santiago Espinal pushed a sharp bunt to third that Maikel Franco ill-advisedly tried to barehand, to no avail. With two on and one out, Eshelman thought he was out of the inning when Franco fielded a Riley Adams grounder and started an around-the-horn double play, but a Jays replay challenge showed that Adams beat out the relay to first, keeping the rally alive.
With the Jays turning over the lineup for a third time, Brandon Hyde opted not to press his luck with Eshelman any further, replacing him with Tyler Wells, who blew away Marcus Semien on strikes to strand the inherited runners. Eshelman’s final line: 4.2 innings, one run, three hits, a walk, and three strikeouts. Normally I wouldn’t applaud a starting pitcher who fails to get through the fifth, but considering the circumstances, Eshelman did a fine job.
Meanwhile, Ray and his alarmingly tight pants kept the O’s off the board for the next three innings, though the Orioles had three baserunners and worked plenty of deep counts. In the fifth, he really began to labor. Pat Valaika singled to cap a seven-pitch at-bat, and Mullins followed with another single on the sixth pitch. Trey Mancini flied out, but it was a productive one, advancing both runners into scoring position and adding another eight pitches to Ray’s ledger.
At that point, with Ray’s pitch count at 101 and Austin Hays — who hits lefties significantly better than righties this year — at the dish, I was surprised that Jays manager Charlie Montoyo stuck with the southpaw instead of bringing in a fresh right-hander. The decision cost him, as Hays blooped a single to left field that plated Valaika with the go-ahead run.
Only then did Montoyo summon the bullpen, and Trent Thornton stranded runners at the corners by striking out Ryan Mountcastle and winning a 12-pitch battle against Anthony Santander with a popout.
Could the O’s bullpen hold the slim, one-run lead? Wells certainly did his part, easily dispatching the Jays in perfect order in the sixth. The 26-year-old rookie has now worked 11 scoreless innings in June, with 12 strikeouts, no walks, and just four hits allowed. For good reason, he’s cemented himself as perhaps Brandon Hyde’s most trusted right-handed reliever. I’m hard pressed to remember an Orioles Rule 5 pick who became such a valuable contributor for the Birds in his first year.
Tanner Scott worked the seventh, and because he’s Tanner Scott, the inning featured both strikeouts and walks. He rang up the first two batters but walked Panik, who didn’t Panik after getting behind 0-2 in the count. A wild pitch advanced the potential tying run into scoring position, but Espinal grounded out.
Hunter Harvey worked the eighth and was completely unhittable in a perfect frame, striking out a pair of batters while regularly clocking 97-98 on his heater. That’s the best he’s looked since returning from his season-long IL stint two weeks ago. The mullet’s lookin’ good, too.
Still, a one-run margin with the AL’s leading home run hitter (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) due up in the ninth is nobody’s idea of a secure lead, so the Orioles set out to add some insurance in the eighth. Boy, did they ever. The rally started innocently enough, with a Ryan Mountcastle single off Tom Murphy, and escalated quickly when Freddy Galvis ripped an RBI double and Franco a run-scoring base hit to make it 4-1.
But the Camden Yards crowd of 13,284, the largest of the season, was ready to reach a fever pitch. They got their chance when the man of the night delivered the knockout blow. With two aboard, Mullins strode to the plate against reliever Jeremy Beasley. One swing later, Cedric had deposited an emphatic three-run homer into the right-field bleachers, his second bomb of the game. Bedlam in Baltimore.
What a game. What a season. I don’t think any Oriole fan in even their most wildly optimistic fever dream could have imagined the performance Cedric Mullins would be putting up in 2021. (And man, it’s been a rough day for athletes named Beasley.)
Closer Paul Fry, who’d been warming up throughout the eighth, pitched a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation to seal the victory. So long, losing streak. Welcome back to Baltimore, Orioles,
And thanks again, Cedric.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Friday, June 18?
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Thomas Eshelman (pitched 4.2 strong innings in emergency duty)
Cedric Mullins (two home runs on his own t-shirt night)