Saturday night was the kind of performance the Orioles envisioned when they signed Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million deal in 2018.
Unfortunately for the Birds, that performance came against them, not for them.
Cobb showed the form he never got to show often in Baltimore, working into the eighth inning and leading his new team, the Los Angeles Angels, to an 4-1 victory over the Orioles in the second game of their series.
While Friday was just another chapter in Shohei Ohtani’s fantastic 2021 story, Saturday was largely about one of the newest Angels. Cobb was strong, pitching 7.2 innings while allowing one run on four hits and striking out six. According to the MASN broadcast, it was Cobb’s first time getting an out in the eighth inning of a start since Aug. 18, 2018, his first season with the O’s.
The guy the Orioles saw Saturday was the guy they watched burn them as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, and the guy they were looking forward to having on their side and helping them continue their run of over-.500 baseball and playoff appearances. None of that transpired, of course; the Orioles fell headlong into a rebuild, and injuries and other obstacles limited Cobb to essentially one good half of a season in three years on the team.
He was there Saturday, however, dotting the outside of the zone with his fastball and using his splitter to baffle the Oriole batters. Of the eight frames in which he pitched, six were 1-2-3 innings, though Anthony Santander helped him out by hitting into a pair of double plays.
The Orioles had two cracks to do damage, both coming after they fell behind 3-0. In the third, Domingo Leyba drew a leadoff walk, and Ramon Urias rifled a single into the right-center field gap that moved Leyba to third with no outs. Pat Valaika grounded to third and beat out the 5-4-3 double play try, scoring Leyba, but a Cedric Mullins ground out and Austin Hays flyout limited the damage to one run and a 3-1 score.
Baltimore’s other chance against Cobb came in his last inning. In the eighth, still trailing only 4-1, the Orioles got a rally going when Urias singled to right, chasing Cobb, and Valaika reached on an infield single between shortstop and third base. Cedric Mullins came to the plate as the tying run, but struck out to end Baltimore’s last threat.
The hole from which the Orioles were trying to escape was dug in the first two innings. Starter Jorge Lopez was in trouble right away, beginning the game with a David Fletcher single and walks to Ohtani and Anthony Rendon.
Jared Walsh, whose at-bat would have started with a strike if Pedro Severino knew how to frame a pitch, instead turned a 1-0 count into an infield single up the middle, scoring Fletcher. The next batter, Philip Gosselin, reached on a fielder’s choice to second, scoring Ohtani and making it 2-0.
The Angels made it 3-0 in the second inning after Jose Iglesias, another Bird of yesteryear, led off with an infield single despite a nice stop by Valaika. Lopez came back to strike out Luis Rengifo, but Juan Lagares shot a double into the left-center field gap to score Iglesias. The Angels threatened further, but Lopez got a strikeout from Rendon with runners at the corners to end it.
The deficit grew to 4-1 in the fifth. Lopez was off to a great start when he got Ohtani to ground out and threw 95 miles per hour past Rendon for another strikeout, but trouble rose again when Walsh doubled over Austin Hays’s head in left, and Gosselin smacked a single over Urias’s head at shortstop to bring him in.
The final line for Lopez was four runs, all earned, on seven hits and four walks in 4.2 innings while striking out four. He fell to 2-11 and saw his ERA rise to 6.02, but as has been the case with him more than once, he seemed to have better stuff than the stat line showed. He had an effective breaking ball and had life on the fastball throughout the start, but he was on the wrong end of some calls thanks to a tight strike zone and a poor effort from Severino. And whenever he made a mistake, it was hit.
That’s not to say Lopez pitched well; he didn’t, and he certainly wasn’t good enough to win the game tonight. But it’s easy to wonder why someone who’s 2-11 with a 6-plus ERA gets the ball every fifth game, and he showed in spurts today just why he does.
On the plus side, there was some encouraging stuff from the bullpen. Adam Plutko allowed no runs in two innings, including a yeoman effort in the sixth in which he kept the Angels off the board despite getting a passed ball and a wild-pitch-but-who-are-we-kidding-it-was-a-passed-ball from Severino that helped load the bases.
Relieving him was Isaac Mattson, who in only his second appearance threw 1.1 scoreless innings while netting a strikeout. Not a bad showing from the kid. If he can step in and be a quality arm out of the bullpen, all the better.