Oriole starter Spenser Watkins, the 28-year-old rookie making his first major league start, was one of the central plotlines tonight. Against the high-octane Blue Jays offense — who entered play on Tuesday ranked first in the American League in home runs (124), second in OPS (.781), and third in runs scored (423) — Watkins pitched five innings of one-run ball. And despite a bit of a rocky start, the O’s right-hander settled in just fine as the game went on.
As the saying in baseball goes, nothing good happens after a leadoff walk. Well, that proved true in the top of the first. Spenser Watkins walked Toronto leadoff hitter Marcus Semien on five pitches before Bo Bichette singled to right. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. followed with a sacrifice fly, and just like that, the Blue Jays were up 1-0. That was the only run surrendered by Watkins in the game.
In the home half of the first, the O’s got a runner in scoring position but he was stranded there at the end of the frame. Austin Hays hit a line drive directly at left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who got spun around and froze up, allowing the ball to bounce off the base of the wall behind him. Hays slid safely into second when Gurriel uncorked an errant throw to the infield at end of the play. But again, Hays was stranded.
Watkins worked around a Gurriel Jr. single to complete a scoreless second inning, and a walk to Bichette was undone by a ground ball double play off the bat of Guerrero to end the third.
The O’s had a great opportunity to do some damage in the bottom of the third but failed to capitalize. Pat Valaika started the inning with a ground ball single deep into the hole at short, with a high throw from Bo Bichette pulling Guerrero off of first base. Domingo Leyba proceeded to line a single into left, but that’s when the rally fizzled. Cedric Mullins and Hays struck out and Trey Mancini flied out to right.
Pedro Severino put a jolt into the Orioles with a two-run home run in the fourth. After a single by Ramon Urias, the O’s catcher lined his fourth home run of the year into the seats in left and gave his team a 2-1 lead in the process.
Baltimore All-Star Cedric Mullins flexed his muscle in the fifth with a two-run homer of his own to lengthen the O’s lead, 4-1. Leyba reached base after Bichette airmailed a throw to first, which was scored an error this time around. Then Mullins jumped on a first-pitch slider and deposited it into the stands in right-center. The diminutive O’s center fielder now has 16 home runs on the year.
Mullins finished the night 1-for-4 — including that two-run home run and a walk — bringing his season-long triple-slash line to .317/.383/.553. With Mike Trout injured, that’s definitely worthy of a starting spot on the American League All-Star squad.
But the scoring in the fifth inning didn’t stop there. Mancini singled and Ryan Mountcastle doubled, putting runners on second and third. A wild pitch by Toronto reliever Trent Thornton allowed Mancini to score, and then Anthony Santander launched a moonshot onto Eutaw Street to give the Birds two more runs. 7-1, Orioles.
Manager Brandon Hyde elected to remove Watkins after the fifth inning with his pitch count at 89. The rookie’s final pitching line was five innings, three hits, one run, three walks, and two strikeouts.
Dillon Tate was the first reliever out of the Baltimore bullpen, and after a scoreless sixth inning, he allowed a solo home run to Oriole killer Randal Grichuk in the seventh. 7-2, O’s. The rest of the seventh inning went down without incident, as Tate induced two ground outs and capped it off by striking out Marcus Semien.
With Tanner Scott on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, Toronto got one run closer to the O’s. The inning began with a groundout by Bichette, but Guerrero Jr. came to the plate next and crushed a 438-foot solo home run to center field. 7-3, O’s. It was his 28th long ball of the year.
Brandon Hyde opted for Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells with the Orioles ahead by four runs in the ninth, indicating his confidence in the young reliever. But the inning didn’t go smoothly. After a one-out single by Grichuk, Gurriel Jr. hit a two-run home run to right. 7-5, O’s. Despite the adversity, the tall right-hander recovered to record a strikeout and a flyout to end the game.
The O’s got their homestand off to a good start with tonight’s victory over the Jays, and they’ll look to build on that momentum in tomorrow’s middle game of the series against the high-powered Jays.
Who was the most Birdland player for Tuesday, July 6?
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Spenser Watkins (5 IP, 1 ER)
Cedric Mullins (1-for-4 with a two-run homer)
Anthony Santander (1-for-4 with a two-run homer)
Pedro Severino (1-for-3 with a two-run homer)