You know what the problem with the 2021 Orioles is? Losing is easy and winning is really hard. #Analysis. Don’t look at the final score of this one and conclude it was a romp. No, this was a slog from beginning to end. Starter Tom Eshelman walked a tightrope all game before blowing a one-run lead in the fourth. A frazzled Cole Sulser, Hunter Harvey and Tanner Scott walked six Astros in three excruciating innings to blow a two-run lead in the seventh. Tyler Wells had to save everybody’s asses by striking out two with the bases loaded. Then, with a 9-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, Paul Fry and Adam Plutko almost blew it again.
On many nights, a bullpen that gives up five runs and walks seven batters (with a HBP, too) would sink a team. Especially one whose offense has been so bad lately that its home announcers joked about it in the first inning (“[Houston starter] Zack Greinke must be glad to see this team twice in a week”). But tonight, the bats performed heroically against Greinke and Houston’s stable of relievers. Orioles hitters ran up Greinke’s pitch count (he’d throw 71 before recording an out in the fourth inning), laying off good pitches and driving him from the game after five. They notched a hit in all but two innings, outhitting the Astros 15 to 7 on the night. Most importantly, their pitchers blew two separate leads and they still kept up the attack.
The Birds kicked off the scoring tonight with a rare two-out rally in the third. Austin Hays squared up a Greinke fastball, the scuffling Trey Mancini hooked an outside breaking ball into center field, and Ryan Mountcastle turned on a ball that caught too much of the plate, scoring Hays for the game’s first run.
All the while, on the bottom half of the scorecard, every inning that Tom Eshelman got through unscathed felt like a minor miracle. When you don’t have swing-and-miss stuff (and—checking my notes—Eshelman doesn’t) you have to nibble around the corners, and the Astros simply don’t chase. Eshelman stranded a two-out double in the first inning, then wriggled out of the second when Austin Hays snagged a deep drive at the warning track to save a run. Between innings, the cameras caught Eshelman ensnaring Austin Hays in a big, fuzzy hug in the dugout. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that from a starting pitcher. But we’re all feeling the love for Hays’ defense, too.
Home run robbery, but make it ~chill~ pic.twitter.com/1MnsgT2vEL— Vote Mullins (@Orioles) June 29, 2021
Eshelman pulled another Houdini maneuver in the third by drawing a double play, but he’d pay the piper in the fourth. One run came home on a leadoff walk, a 3-2 single to Carlos Correa and a sac fly. Mountcastle had the chance to retire Correa on a pop foul, but he bungled it, to obnoxious jeers from the Houston crowd. With two outs, Eshelman allegedly walked the No. 9 hitter, but it was a blown call. Here’s what Ball Four looked like:
With José Altuve up, the bases loaded and two outs, Hyde yanked his starter to put in Cole Sulser. I get the decision. But Sulser was a mess today, throwing seven balls in his first eight pitches and getting extremely lucky—even after walking in the Astros’ second run—to get out of the mess when Michael Brantley, a .345 hitter, pulled the trigger on a 3-1 fastball for an inning-ending popout.
Thanks to another Mullins-Mountcastle connection, the Orioles snatched the lead right back in the fifth. Mullins led off with another single, a ball just above José Altuve’s glove—so, probably about five feet off the ground :) —and another stolen base. Two outs later, just as the RISP-monster was starting to open up its jaws, Ryan Mountcastle silenced the Houstonians by drilling Greinke’s 95th pitch of the day the opposite way for a two-run jack. The Birds were back on top!
THE HOTTEST ROOKIE IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE ⛰️ pic.twitter.com/MZUxpoH2kE— Vote Mullins (@Orioles) June 29, 2021
They added one more in the seventh inning after loading the bases on two straight bloop singles and a walk. Up came the light-hitting Ryan McKenna, maybe not the guy you’d want hitting in that spot. But McKenna battled before hitting a tapper that, thanks to his speed, became a run-scoring forceout and not an inning-ending double play. Orioles 4, Astros 2.
Which brings us to the steaming hot meltdown that nearly was the seventh inning. Hunter Harvey let the first two men reach, and got yanked for … Tanner Scott?? With Scott you know you’re getting plenty of strikeouts or walks—except tonight it was both. Scott froze Yordan Alvarez with three pitches that were pure filth. But then, disaster: he walked Correa on four straight pitches to load the bases for Kyle Tucker, who’s hitting .216 against lefties. Then he walked Tucker, too, to plate the Astros’ third run. Not done yet, he walked another run in to tie the game up. It was an awful moment.
Hyde made a call to the bullpen, and out came Tyler Wells with the bases loaded and one out. Either the Rule 5 rookie was getting fed to the wolves or getting a chance for greatness. Tyler Wells came back with one the biggest performances of the night. Showing incredible nerve, he froze Robel García with a pinpoint fastball on the corner. With the bases still loaded, he struck out catcher Martín Maldonado swinging through a high fastball. It’s hard to express what a momentum swing this was, but Wells’ reaction captures it, a little.
Captioning added for those who can't read lips. pic.twitter.com/1Ai1UFCg0d— Vote Mullins (@Orioles) June 29, 2021
Still tied in the ninth inning, the Cedric Mullins one-man wrecking crew led off with his third hit of the game. He broke for second—oh, but he wouldn’t need it. Austin Hays launched a hanging slider into the stands to put the Birds up again, 6-4.
Then, Ryan Mountcastle walked for the second time this game, Ryan McKenna hit a solid single, and Pedro Severino blew the game open with a two-run double. Ramón Urías nearly went deep, settling for a double to make it 9-4. Who are these guys?
First it was tied, then we scored five. pic.twitter.com/mjpMbjJk2T— Vote Mullins (@Orioles) June 29, 2021
Surely, the Birds couldn’t blow it a third time, up five runs in the ninth? Well, you don’t know the Orioles bullpen. A snake-bitten Paul Fry hit a batter, then gave up three baffling singles to close the gap to 9-6. Brandon Hyde, visibly at wits’ end, summoned Adam Plutko (because who else was there?). Plutko, also seemingly stricken with whatever bug kept all the relievers but Wells from finding the strike zone, walked the very first batter he faced. José Altuve drove a heart-stopping ball to the warning track, but Ryan McKenna was there, waiting. Just Michael Brantley stood between this team and a win. The shaky Plutko threw him—what else?—a cutter, drew a pop-up, and that was it: a tidy four-hour, twenty-minute contest with 25 hits, 14 walks, 16 runs scored, and five lead changes between the two teams.
Orioles losses are easy; the wins are a marathon. But we’ll take the wins any night.
Who was the Most Birdland Player on June 28, 2021?
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The Cedric Mullins One-Man Show, 3-for-5, 2 R, 2 SB
Ryan Mountcastle, 2-for-3, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR, 2 BBs (two, count ‘em, two!)
Tyler Wells, 0.2 IP, 2 bases-loaded Ks, major brass cojones
Austin Hays, 3-for-5, 3 R, saved a HR, go-ahead HR in the 9th