Out of nowhere, and without any warning, Thursday night became a pitchers’ duel in Baltimore.
Until the Orioles’ young guns turned into the big guns, that is.
Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays rocketed a pair of home runs, Zac Lowther delivered one of his best starts of the season, and the Orioles got their final series with the Texas Rangers off to a great start with a 3-0 victory.
It’s only the fifth shutout of the season for Baltimore, but also its second in four days. And it came with the bulk of the innings being handled by Lowther, he of the 9.61 ERA, 1.831 WHIP and .301 batting average against coming in.
Well, forget those numbers - Lowther looked like the pitcher whose been a top-25 prospect throughout his development, and the pitcher who three starts ago held the Royals to a single run on three hits in six innings of work. Yes, it was the Rangers, who are nowhere near the hard-hitting outfit that Baltimore’s AL East rivals are, but still. Good pitching is good pitching.
Lowther didn’t have exceptional stuff, throwing a fastball that sat in the low-90s, but he pitched from ahead and he had effective, reliable off-speed and breaking pitches. He struck out batters for six of the Rangers’ first eight outs and ended up throwing five innings, allowing three hits and walking two while striking out seven. He threw 58 of his 96 pitches for strikes, and finished with a game score of 66.
And yet, the Orioles couldn’t get their lefty out to an early lead, because Glenn Otto, he of the 9.37 ERA coming in, felt like delivering a strong start too. He pitched five innings and allowed five hits while striking out seven.
He did, however, crack first. In the fourth, an inning after stranding Cedric Mullins and Mountcastle on the corners, he gave up a double to deep center to Ryan McKenna and then a single on the next pitch to Jahmai Jones. Richie Martin got the count to 2-1, then dropped a great bunt back to Otto, allowing McKenna to slide home with the first run.
The Orioles went the more direct route for their second run in the fifth. With two outs, Mountcastle pummeled an 0-1 fastball the other way over the right field wall and onto the flag court, making it 2-0 O’s. It was the hopeful Rookie of the Year’s 31st home run, and few this season have been better pieces of hitting. Opposite field power is often a good distinguishing trait between good and great hitters, and Mountcastle being able to tag a ball 404 feet to right field is a good sign of his still-improving coverage of the plate.
After Mike Baumann came on for the sixth and stranded a runner at second (thanks to some nice defense at shortstop from Richie Martin) and Cole Sulser escaped a second-and-third jam in the seventh, the Orioles got some insurance in the eighth. Hays came up and cranked a Joe Barlow pitch 412 feet to left, making it 3-0. It was Hays’s 22nd home run of the season and eighth of September alone. Mountcastle’s home run was nice for the opposite field element...but it’s pretty fun to watch someone yank a pitch 10-plus rows deep into the bleachers too.
Here’s where normally I’d go into detail about how the Orioles walked the first two batters of the ninth en route to giving up four runs or something, but...nope. Not this time. Sulser went 1.2 hitless innings, striking out two. Tyler Wells got his fourth save with a relatively uneventful four-batter inning.
Orioles 3, Rangers 0. End of story.
Games like these are fun. Your starter does his job, you get some key hits, the defense makes some nice plays, the bullpen hangs on. Maybe the day will come when the Orioles get 90 or so of these a year. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Until then, enjoy them when they happen.
Also, shoutout to Austin Wynns. Threw a runner out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt, then took a foul shot right off the what-nots and stayed in the game. What an animal.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Sept. 23, 2021?
This poll is closed
Ryan Mountcastle (2-for-4, HR)
Austin Hays (2-for-4, HR)
Zac Lowther (WP, 5 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 7 Ks)
Richie Martin (RBI, defense at shortstop)