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Two Valaika blasts, sensational bullpen lead Orioles over Nationals, 6-1

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Timely hitting, a couple of dingers, and outstanding relief work buoyed the Birds to their first win against the Nats this year.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles might not have much to play for in this gloomy 2021 season. But if they can make life a little bit more difficult for the regional rivals to the south, well, that’s a bonus.

As the Washington Nationals enter a critical final week before the trade deadline to decide whether they’re buyers or sellers, the calm and collected Orioles sealed game one of the weekend interleague series. The Birds made the most of their six hits, putting up a six-run outburst in a four-inning span, while the bullpen made quick work of the Nats in the late innings.

Starters Jorge Lopez and Patrick Corbin tangled in a scoreless pitcher’s duel for the first three innings of this contest. Lopez was the shakier of the two — throwing more balls than strikes in the first two innings, and putting two men aboard with none out in the second before wriggling out of the jam — while Corbin chose the more dominant route, mowing down the first nine O’s batters of the game.

The Nationals struck first blood on Josh Bell’s mammoth, 448-foot homer into the bleachers to open the fourth, but the Orioles quickly responded in the home half. Cedric Mullins busted up Corbin’s modest perfect game bid with a leadoff double to right, and Austin Hays followed with a scorcher off the glove of third baseman Josh Harrison into foul territory (directly to the ball boy, who out of habit picked up the live ball, oops). It went as an RBI double, tying the score.

Later, Hays stood at third base with two outs for the red-hot Ramon Urias, who delivered again, lashing a go-ahead RBI single to right. What a pleasant surprise this guy has been! Since taking over as the everyday shortstop for the injured Freddy Galvis in June, Urias is batting .319, OPSing over .820, and has 12 RBIs in 19 games. Once Galvis returns, seems like Urias could slide a few feet to his left to fix the black hole that is the second base position.

The Orioles had a 2-1 lead, setting up a showdown between Lopez and his most hated nemesis: the fifth inning. We all know the story by now. The guy usually looks fine, sometimes even excellent, for four innings, but melts down in the fifth like clockwork. And it looked like tonight would play out exactly the same way when #9 hitter Andrew Stevenson (.597 OPS) laced a double to begin the frame.

Alcides Escobar did Lopez a favor by squaring to bunt for the first few pitches, which, if your leadoff hitter is trying to give away an out in the fifth inning, maybe he shouldn’t be your leadoff hitter? Anyway, the failed bunts put Escobar behind in the count 1-2, and he ultimately grounded out. A Pedro Severino passed ball advanced Stevenson to third with one out, but Lopez got a huge out by retiring Trea Turner on a grounder to drawn-in first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, freezing Stevenson at third.

Lopez was one out away from escaping the jam and finishing the fifth...but Brandon Hyde had other ideas, strolling to the mound for a pitching change. “Oh no, they’re going to take him out!” exclaimed MASN analyst Jim Palmer in frustration. “I love Brandon Hyde, but...(Lopez) didn’t deserve that.” Palmer later added, “As a former starting pitcher, I’d hate to come out of that game.” Well, yes, but you’re a Hall of Famer, Jim. Jorge Lopez is a guy with a 17.47 ERA in the fifth inning. (That’s not a typo. 17.47!) And with menacing lefty Juan Soto at the plate, bringing in southpaw Paul Fry made sense. Hyde’s move worked splendidly; Fry needed just one pitch to retire Soto on an inning-ending groundout.

Fry was similarly dominant in the sixth, striking out all three batters he faced (and making them all look silly while he was at it). If any scouts from other teams were on hand to evaluate Fry before the trade deadline, he couldn’t have put on a better show. Give us all your prospects, please! (holds out hand expectantly)

Meanwhile, the Orioles continued padding the lead, scoring in each of the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. Pat Valaika, apparently taking umbrage to my previous comment about second base being a black hole, tagged Corbin for a solo home run into the left-field seats in the fifth, his second blast in as many games.

The O’s added another in the sixth on a play that, as MASN anchor Kevin Brown pointed out, involved a Trey, a Trea, and a Tres. Trey Mancini, who had doubled and moved to third on a groundout, came barreling toward home plate on an Urias chopper to the left side. Shortstop Trea Turner made a nice backhanded pickup and fired home, but his throw sailed high, pulling catcher Tres Barrera off the plate as Mancini slid in safely.

That was the end of the line for Corbin, who was tagged for four runs while he was in the game and charged with another after he left. Reliever Wander Suero made a wild pickoff throw to first that moved Urias all the way to third, where he scored on a Severino sac fly. 5-1, Orioles.

For good measure, Pat Valaika continued his stupendous night with his second home run of the game, a solo blast off Suero in the seventh. In one game, Valaika doubled his season home run total. Maybe he’s not ready to give up the second base job to Urias just yet.

Let’s talk about the Orioles’ bullpen, shall we? They’ve had their struggles this year, to put it mildly. Tonight was not one of those nights. The Birds’ four relievers — Fry, Cole Sulser, Tanner Scott, and Dillon Tate — combined for 4.1 scoreless innings of relief and racked up eight strikeouts. Sulser was the only one to allow any baserunners — giving up a single and a walk — while the other three were dominant, carrying this thing to the finish line with relatively little drama.

A well-played, stress-free victory against a regional rival on a beautiful Friday evening at Camden Yards. For one night, at least, everything was coming up Orioles.

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland Player for Friday, July 23?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Paul Fry (retired all four batters, 3 Ks)
    (41 votes)
  • 16%
    Ramon Urias (2 RBIs, go-ahead single)
    (42 votes)
  • 68%
    Pat Valaika (two home runs)
    (177 votes)
260 votes total Vote Now