Happy Fourth, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful day making memories with the family, grilling delicious food, and watching quality baseball, although I’m afraid you weren’t going to find that last one here today.
Today was a contest between two of the worst-pitching teams in the league, but while the Angels started a promising youngster finding himself this season, the Orioles trotted out a slow-throwing injury replacement who can’t strike people out. And although the Birds found themselves in a quick 4-0 hole, a plucky comeback in the sixth, a Cedric Mullins home run in the ninth, and four good innings from the bullpen gave them a real chance to win this one. A chance, that is, that Cole Sulser singlehandedly squandered in the ninth.
The starter matchup went about as well as you’d expect. The Angels’ Patrick Sandoval—drafted once upon a time by Mike Elias for Houston in 2015—has quietly built a name for himself this season with a changeup that’s “a whiff machine.” He almost beat himself in the first inning with dire command issues. The Orioles loaded the bases against him on three walks—including a redoubtable 10-pitch effort by Ryan McKenna—but failed to capitalize, DJ Stewart swinging through a slider to leave the bases loaded.
The Angels did capitalize on a shaky starter’s mistakes, however, with two doubles and a broken-bat single off Tom Eshelman to go up 2-0 in the bottom of the first. The rally was sandwiched around a swinging strikeout of Shohei Otani so unexpected that even Eshelman couldn’t help but crack a grin on the mound. Watch carefully: it may well turn out to be the greatest at-bat of Eshelman’s career…
… Because he definitely crashed to earth in the third inning against the top of the lineup. With one out, Ohtani received a low slider and crushed it 459 feet. Ryan McKenna, in center, barely moved. It was definitely one of those highlight-reel moments, you knew. Next, Anthony Rendon turned on a flabby slider, and it, too, sailed into the bleachers. The Angels were up 4-0.
Eshelman was out after just four innings and 54 pitches thrown, his ERA over four starts parked at 7.16. In relief came Zac Lowther, called up two days ago, who kicked off his appearance with two consecutive strikeouts, including another whiff of Ohtani on a perfect breaking ball. Impressive!
This coincided with a very boring stretch of play where Sandoval settled in and the Orioles could not make him work at all, especially annoying after his 35-pitch first inning. Sandoval faced the minimum in the second, third and fifth innings and allowed just a single to Ramón Urías in the fourth. MASN announcer Kevin Brown observed in a moment of inspired honesty, “This game was 4-0, but it felt like 14-0 the way Sandoval was pitching.”
But come the sixth inning, it quickly became a very different ballgame. After a swinging-bunt single to Austin Hays and a walk, Angels manager Joe Maddon replaced Sandoval with a hapless Aaron Slegers. Ryan Mountcastle stung a 109-mph liner right at the centerfielder, but the next two hard-hit balls had better results: Ramón Urías doubled to the gap to drive home Hays. Then DJ Stewart did the same thing, scoring two more to bring the Orioles within one.
Joe Maddon brought in a new pitcher, Andrew Wantz, a rookie with zero innings of MLB experience. Pat Valaika tagged his first pitch to the warning track, moving DJ Stewart over. Brandon Hyde, sensing the importance of this at-bat, pinch-hit for Austin Wynns with first-time All-Star Cedric Mullins. Mullins roped a single into left field, his 100th hit of the season, to knot up the score at 4.
A bunch of defensive realignments made the Orioles look like geniuses in the sixth. Tyler Wells and Pedro Severino came in as the new battery. Cedric Mullins entered to play center and Ryan McKenna bounced DJ Stewart from LF. A ten-pitch José Iglesias at-bat ended with a beautiful 96-mph fastball for the first out. Then, facing Kurt Suzuki on a 2-2 count, Wells shook off Severino a couple times and settled on a slider. It was probably the wrong pitch: Suzuki launched it 370 feet, but the Orioles’ new leftfielder took off running and laid out to kill any chance at extra bases. Total webgem. Totally wonderful to have athletic, talented outfielders.
Tanner Scott pitched the seventh, probably for the lefty-lefty matchup with Shohei Ohtani. Scott was perfect today, aided by a nice backhanded pick from Domingo Leyba at third and Ohtani’s just getting under the lethal Scott slider for a popout.
Scott got two quick outs in the eighth before Cole Sulser came in to face the righty Phil Gosselin. Sulser was bringing the good slider tonight: it made Gosselin look extremely silly for the third out. (At least for one batter: more on this below.)
Onto the ninth. Angels manager Joe Maddon trotted out the Angels’ best reliever, Rasiel Iglesias, for the third straight night. This guy had been utterly unhittable. But freshly minted All-Star Cedric Mullins doesn’t care about your unhittable stuff. With the count 3-2, Mullins received a 98-mph fastball inside, turning on it ferociously to send the ball into the stands. Like that, it was Orioles 5, Angels 4.
Three outs stood between the Orioles and a win. Unfortunately, Cole Sulser was in no mood to wrap this one up. He must hate Freedom. Sulser walked the leadoff man, Iglesias, then allowed a slow-rolling single to Kurt Suzuki. If that wasn’t bad enough, up 0-2 to José Rojas, a .189 hitter, Sulser threw a changeup down the middle that produced a bases-loading single. Should Hyde have pulled Sulser then for a just-warming-up Paul Fry (or earlier)? A question for the ages. The game-winning blow was struck by the No. 9 hitter, Juan Lagares, owner of a .226 batting average, and the Orioles fly home, vanquished on the Fourth of July.