Baseball is a great game, isn’t it?
Only in baseball could a Wednesday night game between two last-place teams turn into something so memorable.
It wasn’t just memorable for an Orioles win, although that was certainly delightful, with Ryan McKenna’s walkoff walk sealing an improbable victory in a game the O’s trailed 5-0 in the second and 7-5 in the eighth.
But what happened in the bottom of the third inning was the kind of beautiful moment that transcends sports. Trey Mancini, who before the game had caught the ceremonial first pitch from Sonsy Gaba, mother of the late O’s superfan Mo Gaba, crushed a no-doubt-about-it home run into the left field seats. After Mancini crossed home plate, his eyes found Sonsy in the stands, who blew him a kiss, with Mancini waving back.
Today was the one-year anniversary of Mo’s death at age 14, as well as the day he was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame. It was only fitting that Mancini, who had become good friends with Mo before his passing, would deliver a prodigious tribute en route to a dramatic O’s win.
Make that SIX straight games with an extra-base hit for Trey pic.twitter.com/EFCf46XhSh— Orioles on MASN (@masnOrioles) July 29, 2021
There was a lot going on in this game. Early on, this marathon looked like it would turn into a Tigers/Twins-esque 17-14 slugfest. At the 90-minute mark, it was the top of the fourth inning and 12 runs had already crossed the plate. Settle in, folks, it’s gonna be a long one.
Both starting pitchers were long gone from the game by then. For the Orioles, Jorge Lopez suffered one of his worst outings of the year, getting ambushed in the first two innings instead of waiting until his customary fifth. A Jesus Aguilar RBI double in the first got the scoring started, and later Brian Anderson poked a single through the hole in the right side. The O’s had a good chance of throwing out the plodding Aguilar at home, but DJ Stewart uncorked an atrocious 10-hop throw from shallow right field that practically rolled to the plate.
Lopez got right back into trouble in the second, when a double, an Isan Diaz RBI single, and an Aguilar two-run homer made it a 5-0 game. Lopez finished that inning at 58 pitches and was done for the night. His two innings of work matched his lowest total of the season, May 15 against the Yankees. In his other 19 starts, he’s worked at least four frames.
Lopez, by the way, was sporting a shaved head in honor of his son Mikael, who has recently been undergoing chemotherapy for an autoimmune disorder. It’s frankly amazing that Jorge is able to play baseball at all under those circumstances. Send all the good vibes you possibly can to the Lopez family.
The O’s quickly rallied back against Marlins starter Jordan Holloway, who I keep thinking is named Josh Holloway, but no, that’s the guy who played Sawyer in Lost. It’s totally normal to be thinking about Josh Holloway, right? Whoever this pitcher is, he squandered a 5-0 lead. The Birds took the first chunk out of it on Pedro Severino’s three-run homer in the second following a pair of walks.
In the third, after Mancini’s emotional home run, Holloway walked DJ Stewart on four pitches, the first of which was a curveball right down the middle that catcher Jorge Alfaro somehow dropped, costing his pitcher the strike call. Alfaro then committed a passed ball to advance Stewart to second, already his league-worst 11th passed ball in just 49 games this season. This guy makes Pedro Severino look sure-handed.
Holloway got the hook, and in came old friend David Hess. You probably weren’t the only one who assumed David Hess was pitching overseas or something after washing out with the Birds in 2019, but here he is, back in a major league uniform. And if you expected a former O’s busted pitching prospect to come in and immediately shut down the Birds, well, congratulations: you’ve watched the Orioles before. That’s exactly what happened. Hess did allow an RBI double to Ramon Urias to charge a fifth run to Holloway’s ledger, but he promptly retired the next five batters with a slider/fastball mix better than anything we ever saw from him in an Orioles uniform.
The Marlins wasted no time getting the lead back in the fourth against O’s long reliever Thomas Eshelman. Be honest: you’d forgotten Thomas Eshelman was even on the roster, hadn’t you? Don’t feel bad. He hadn’t pitched in two and a half weeks. That rust was on display when he allowed the first four batters of the inning to reach base, including two walks and a hit batsman, along with a Lewin Diaz run-scoring groundout that made it 7-5. Despite that rough frame, Eshelman ate up three innings, and Cesar Valdez and Cole Sulser combined for three scoreless, which would prove to be important later.
Back to the Marlins, where Hess was just the first in a parade of ex-Orioles hurlers to pitch for the Marlins tonight. Next was Zach Pop, one of the five players the Birds received in the Manny Machado trade in 2018. Fun fact: only two of those five players are currently in the majors, and neither is with the Orioles (Blue Jays infielder Breyvic Valera is the other). What’s that you say? That’s not a fun fact, but a depressing one that indicates how awful the trade has turned out for the Orioles? Ah, OK. Fair enough.
Anyway, the Orioles lost Pop in last November’s Rule 5 draft after they didn’t put him on the 40-man roster, though they did get Tyler Wells in that same draft, so it kind of worked out. Pop struggled in his one inning of work tonight, giving up two hits, but the Marlins defense bailed him out with a great relay throw from right field on a Stewart double, cutting down Ryan Mountcastle trying to score.
Hess and Pop were followed by yet another former Oriole, Preston Guilmet, who pitched 10 games for the Birds back in 2014. This was his Marlins debut, as well as his first major league outing in three years, and he tossed a perfect sixth.
Righty John Curtiss got four outs before the Marlins continued to march out Orioles castoffs, this time with Richard Bleier in the eighth. And that’s when fortune finally turned in the Birds’ favor. Pinch-hitter Ryan McKenna worked an outstanding free pass from Bleier, who had issued just one unintentional walk all season before that. Urias then ripped a double to right field, advancing McKenna to third.
The Marlins defense bungled its way into an Orioles run. First baseman Lewin Diaz fielded a Severino grounder for the second out, but noticed McKenna was caught between third base and home. He fired to third, where Anderson missed the catch, allowing McKenna to scramble home. Maikel Franco then delivered a game-tying hit, a bouncer up the middle that found open grass for an RBI single. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s 7-7.
Miraculously, it stayed 7-7 after the top of the ninth, even though the Marlins put the first two runners on base against Dillon Tate. Lewis Brinson, asked to bunt, failed at that most basic of tasks, twice coming up empty on his sacrifice attempts and ultimately striking out. Tanner Scott relieved Tate and induced a pair of groundouts to quash the rally.
The Orioles, too, were presented a golden scoring opportunity in the ninth, and happily, they didn’t waste it. Cedric Mullins led off with a walk against southpaw Steven Okert, who then uncorked a wild pitch to move him to second. Austin Hays elected to sac bunt, which is not a choice I would have made, but it worked out. With the winning run now at third, Marlins manager Don Mattingly made the bold choice to intentionally walk both Mancini and Mountcastle. I get that he wanted to set up a force at the plate, but it’s a risky move with a pitcher who had already unintentionally walked a guy and thrown a wild pitch.
Sure enough, Okert had one more walk in him. McKenna had another great at-bat, patiently laying off the pitches out of the zone instead of getting overanxious like some rookies would. On a 3-2 pitch, McKenna took low for ball four. There it is! A walkoff walk! It wasn’t the most typical of ways to win a ballgame, but great job by the Birds to battle back from two deficits and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
That one’s for you, Mo.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Wednesday, July 28?
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Trey Mancini (home run on Mo Gaba celebration night)
Ryan McKenna (rally-sparking walk in 8th, walkoff walk in 9th)
Pedro Severino (3-run HR)