When all was said and done, a shirtless, soaked Austin Hays stood in the vicinity of first base, swarmed by teammates, surveying all that he had wrought. The would-be hero from Wednesday night got another shot on Thursday night, coming up with the bases loaded in a tie game, the winning run on third base, one out. Hays chopped a grounder over the drawn-in Yankees infield for a walkoff 3-2 win that, for today at least, knocked the Yankees out of a postseason spot.
Everything was in place for the Orioles to lose their 100th game of the 2021 season, sealing a third straight 100+ loss campaign in a 162 game season. Their pitching was not all that bad but their offense had done next to nothing. The result was that the Orioles trailed 2-1 heading into the ninth inning. Then, things got weird.
In the bottom of the ninth, the O’s got their tying run on base with one out on a DJ Stewart single. Stewart was lifted for pinch runner Kelvin Gutierrez while the Yankees left their reliever Clay Holmes in the game to face the murderer’s row due up of Pat Valaika and Austin Wynns.
One other player is important to mention. The Yankees catcher was Gary Sanchez. This is important because Sanchez is one of the only catchers in all of baseball who comes close to allowing as many wild pitches as does Orioles catcher Pedro Severino. Sanchez had allowed 49 heading into tonight; Severino has been behind the dish for 58. He had already given up two wild pitches earlier in this same game.
Holmes’s first pitch to Valaika popped up out of Sanchez’s glove, allowing Gutierrez to get down to second base on the wild pitch. Valaika hit a ground ball that was soft enough to allow Gutierrez to get to third base even though the ball went to the left side, putting the tying run a mere 90 feet away. This still did not look good. Valaika made the second out and Wynns was 0-3 with three strikeouts.
Had Holmes thrown strikes to Wynns, that would have ended it. Instead, he let loose another pitch even more wild than the last one. The ball ricocheted off of the brick behind home plate and got a friendly bounce back to Sanchez.
Gutierrez raced home in anticipation, slid into the heavy dirt from the night’s steady rain, took what felt like forever to get his foot down to home plate. Yet despite the friendly bounce and slow slide, Holmes had not gotten into position to receive a throw from Sanchez. Gutierrez touched home ahead of a tag, and Holmes dropped the ball anyway. Wynns promptly struck out for a fourth time, but the O’s had sent the game into extras.
Once the Manfred Man - the automatic extra innings runner introduced in 2020 and hopefully banished after 2021 - gets involved, you never know quite what’s going to happen. In general, it is not expected for the O’s pitching to stop a runner scoring from second base with no one out.
The Orioles, however, had their lowest-ERA reliever, Cole Sulser, on the mound, choosing to send him back out for the tenth after he pitched a scoreless ninth. Sulser sent the 3-4-5 Yankee hitters, starting with Certified Large Human Aaron Judge, down in order with little drama.
This set the O’s up with their own game-winning chance, the walkoff winning run starting out on second base with no one out. The first player with a chance to do something about this was light-hitting #9 hitter Richie Martin. The Yankees were so certain of a bunt that first baseman Anthony Rizzo was playing even closer to home plate than pitcher Wandy Peralta was standing.
Peralta delivered home, Martin squared to bunt... and he dropped a beauty to the third base side. Peralta went to field it but he could do nothing. No play at first. No play at third. Martin had gotten the job done. The winning run was 90 feet away and there was still no one out. The Yankees decided to intentionally walk leadoff man Cedric Mullins, partly because he already had two hits and partly to set up a force at home plate.
If you’ve watched the 2021 Orioles, or if you watched the 2019 or 2018 Orioles, you probably had the same question as me: How were they going to Oriole this one up? Ryan Mountcastle had the first crack at being a hero but he struck out on four pitches, flailing on a third strike way outside of the zone. The other part of the formula would have been an inning-ending double play. Hays had other ideas.
Peralta nearly ended the game without Hays even having to swing. He threw three straight balls out of the strike zone before Hays took a pitch. On the 3-1 count, Hays hit his chopper to the left side, it bounced easily over the head of third baseman Gio Urshela, and that was that. The Orioles were winners for the eighth time this year over these Yankees. New York going “only” 11-8 against the O’s could keep them out of the postseason entirely, or from having a home wild card game. Too bad, so sad. Try going better than 1-7 with RISP next time, suckers.
The game before the ninth inning was much less eventful. O’s starting pitcher Chris Ellis gave up two runs over a 4.2 inning start. That’s a fine ERA, but there was a lot of traffic on the bases, including four walks issued by Ellis. The Yankees got their first run off of Ellis in the second inning when Joey Gallo blasted a home run onto the flag court over right field. Between New York and Texas, Gallo has 35 home runs this year.
After Gallo’s homer, Ellis walked the next two batters. Urshela doubled home the lead runner before Ellis rallied to get the next two outs, keeping the O’s in the game and merely trailing, 2-0, instead of being much worse.
The O’s cut their deficit to 2-1 with a historic home run in the sixth inning of the game. Ryan Mountcastle launched a pitch from Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery into the O’s bullpen. This was Mountcastle’s 29th home run of the year. The Orioles rookie home run leader is now Mountcastle. He’s surpassed Cal Ripken Jr. (28) and Eddie Murray (27). That’s good company.
This could have easily been a story of Orioles futility. O’s batters struck out 12 times against Montgomery in a 5.2 inning outing. That was a new career high for Montgomery in his 73rd MLB start. When added to the 11 strikeouts against Nestor Cortes Jr. on Wednesday, the Orioles had helped the Yankees pull off back-to-back 11+ strikeout starts for the first time ever.
Instead, triumph. The 100 loss milestone will wait another night at least. The Yankees may be an 82-win team, and they are certainly a much, much better team than the Orioles are, but they don’t have that “it” to let them take over and win against as bad a team as the Orioles. Just imagine being only 11-8 against a team that has a .322 winning percentage! How embarrassing for them. I wonder how they will get over the shame. Maybe they never will.
The O’s are now tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks with the worst record in MLB at 47-99. If these teams have the same record at season’s end, the O’s hold the tiebreaker for the #1 pick. The teams also tied at 25-35 in 2020, but the O’s were much worse in 2019, so the tiebreaker goes to them. This win also guarantees that the 2021 Orioles will not have fewer wins than any other full-season Orioles team. They only need to win one of their final 16 games to finish with more wins than the 2018 losers.
The AL East gauntlet continues for the Orioles in Boston tomorrow night. Keegan Akin is set to start Friday’s 7:05 opener against a to be determined Red Sox pitcher.
Who is the Most Birdland Player for September 20, 2021?
This poll is closed
John Means (6.2 IP, 0 R, 6 SO, 4 H, 1 BB, hit a double)