That exhilarating feeling from last night? Maybe the burning sage fumes got to your head, or maybe you, too, were celebrating the end of the Orioles’ 19-game losing streak like it was a playoff win.
Exactly one minute and two pitches into Thursday’s afternoon game, it felt like that feeling would fade, as Shohei Ohtani teed off on a Keegan Akin curveball for a leadoff home run, his 41st of the season. But sometimes—sometimes—appearances can be deceiving, even for a pitching staff whose brewing disasters are often exactly what they appear to be.
Surprisingly, today Keegan Akin turned in his best start of 2021, and it wasn’t even close. Akin broke his 0-fer in 2021 with seven innings of one-run, six-strikeout baseball, Ohtani’s leadoff home run the only damage the Angels did against him all game.
This was extra surprising given that Akin failed to retire a single leadoff hitter through five innings. “Let the leadoff guy reach, then strike out a bunch of people to get out of the jam” is a pretty stupid game plan, ordinarily. Watching Akin execute it didn’t exactly fill you with confidence in the moment, but it’s definitely better than him flat-out sucking.
Akin’s stuff looked markedly improved today from past starts this year, too. He flirted with disaster in the second, pegging leadoff man Kurt Suzuki and giving up a “single” to leftfielder Jo Adell on a fly ball that’s probably a routine out for almost any competent outfielder—but not DJ Stewart, whose diving flop surely won’t beautify his defensive highlight reel or win him any more fans here in Baltimore. But then Akin rung up the next three hitters: “Captain Caveman,” Brandon Marsh (it really annoys me that someone would choose to wear that beard in August), shortstop Jack Mayfield and rightfielder Juan Lagares. Akin’s putaway fastball to Marsh: 95 mph, a number you don’t often see from the lefty. A sign of more to come?
Akin did the same thing in the third, the fourth, and again in the fifth, failing each time to retire the leadoff runner before drawing a bunch of quick outs to shut down the Angels’ offense.
Meanwhile, Akin’s counterpart, the big-boned Jaime Barria had thwarted the O’s offense for two innings, but the bats broke through to tie up the game in the third. Jahmai Jones drilled a fastball down the line for a leadoff double, his first-extra base hit. Kelvin Gutiérrez (or “Kevin,” if you’re listening closely to MASN’s Scott Garceau) showed a great approach in stroking an opposite-field RBI single. But he got greedy rounding first and was picked off. It was unfortunate because Cedric Mullins then dropped the perfect bunt to get aboard, stole second and took third a throwing error by Suzuki. Without the Gutiérrez TOOTBLAN, the AL’s No. 2 hits leader might still have scored on a two-out Santander grounder to first, but the Orioles had to settle for just one run.
I thought that “Short Akin Start; More RISP Failures” might be the story of this game, especially when they blew a golden opportunity off a flagging Barria in the fourth, as third-base coach Tony Mansolino sent the lead-footed Mancini home from second on a Ramón Urías single, just to be thrown out easily.
But even for this hapless team, things work out differently sometimes. The O’s came into the fifth inning in a 1-1 tie and exited it leading 7-1. Aiding them in their quest were three walks from the Angels’ Elvis Peguero and some timely two-out hitting. First, Mullins worked a one-out walk and stole his second base of the game (and 24th on the season) before Ryan Mountcastle walked, too. Trey Mancini came through in the clutch, poking a two-out single through the middle to plate Mullins before DJ Stewart drove in the Orioles’ third run with a double deep to center-left. With the “Jaws” theme playing to signify Peguero’s predicament, Ramón Urías walked to load the bases.
That was it for Peguero, but it was way worse for his replacement, Jake Petricka, who threw one pitch to Pedro Severino and surrendered a grand slam.
Suddenly, a game that had looked doomed for the Orioles became a laugher. Akin rolled through the sixth on four pitches. (That sentence has never been written: Akin’s previous longest start was 5 2/3 innings.) Then he rolled through the seventh, too.
There have been too many nights to count where the Orioles bullpen did unspeakable things and blew a game, but this afternoon, the only bullpen that flagged was the Angels’.
Austin Hays, pinch-hitting for Stewart in the seventh, doubled and scored the Orioles’ eighth run on a single by the reliable Urías.
Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Angels reliever James Hoyt allowed five runs on four hits (it could easily have been six hits, but the scorekeepers stingily rendered two sharp grounders from Mullins and Gutierrez as errors). Ryan Mountcastle took a second-and-third, no-outs opportunity and didn’t miss: a long single scored two runs. Then Hays, whom Ben McDonald has dubbed “Instant Offense,” singled, making him 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter. With two outs, Urías doubled, scoring two more. Severino singled in the twelfth and thirteenth runs. As the smoke cleared, it was 13-1 Orioles, and it became clear this team was going to win this game, and the series.
Meanwhile, the “New Look” Jorge López did his part, too, pitching a great eighth and ninth innings, fastball a-blazing. His one blemish was a walk to Ohtani (but there are worse outcomes than that against Ohtani), and he struck out four of six he faced.
With 52 runs combined scored in this three-game series, it’s not like the Angels or Orioles are vying for a Cy Young Award. But today, the Orioles got pitching help from an unlikely place, a rookie who’s looked like a sitting duck all year but crushed it today. It might even have been the best start of Akin’s career (the only other one in the running is last year’s five-inning shutout of the Yankees). Scott Garceau even compared Akin’s start to John Means’ no-hitter on May 5th. Don’t do that, Scott Garceau! But really, it was a cool thing to see.
Who was the most Birdland player for August 26, 2021?
This poll is closed
Pedro Severino (6 RBI, grand salami)
Keegan Akin (7 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 6 K)