Is it better to be lucky than good? Now think about this one: Is it better to be unlucky than bad? Actually, the Orioles might be both of those things, but tonight they hit 11 batted balls with an exit velocity of 99 mph or more (nine at 100+ mph) and saw just three drop in for hits. Over the course of the game, the Orioles’ xBA was .302. The Athletics’ was .238. Yet the A’s walked away winners on Tuesday night.
The Orioles have faced some stiff pitching competition thus far in the year. Suffice it to say that although Cole Irvin led the AL in starts in 2021, he is not that caliber of pitcher. Over five innings, the Orioles made Irvin work, seeing 95 pitches and pummeling many of them. But the results—this is becoming a theme, I guess?—just weren’t there.
Tuesday night’s game started with three consecutive Orioles batted balls of 95 mph or more: a Cedric Mullins flyout to the warning track, an Anthony Santander single, and a Ryan Mountcastle scorcher blitzed 112 mph to deep center. With this kind of contact, you wanted more than one run. One run was all they got, courtesy of a Trey Mancini RBI groundout.
The rest, as Hamlet said, was silence. Absolutely terrible BABIP luck was to blame in the second. With one out, Kélvin Gutiérrez hit a rocket deep to center, sending Oakland CF Christian Pache back to the wall. Pache scaled it, gloved the ball, bobbled it, then caught the ball again off his own glove. A highlight reel catch. Not to be outdone, outfielder Billy McKinney ended the inning with a running grab on a 345-foot Jorge Mateo drive. Two batted balls with an xBA of .620 and .570, respectively, turned into two outs. (Pache did it again in the eighth inning, robbing Austin Hays on a 392-foot blast with an .810 xBA.) Congratulations on your outfield defense, Oakland. I’m happy for you.
Over the next three innings, the O’s proceeded to waste a third-inning leadoff walk to Mullins, two more batted balls over 100 mph to start the fourth, and a pair of singles from Santander and Mancini in the fifth. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you go about scoring the fewest runs per game in the league.
Bless these Birds, they did battle. Another budding rally was doused in annoying fashion in the seventh after Mullins singled up the middle with one out and Santander walked. (Bright spot: this is Tony Taters’ tenth walk in 11 games, as compared to 23 walks in 110 games last season.) But a Mountcastle fielders’ choice was a big second out, and a battling Mancini ended the inning on what would have been a harmless foul ball in any other park but the stupid Coliseum.
In the ninth, Jorge Mateo, 5-for-his-last-11, singled to get aboard, but got no help from his friends, with 3 K’s to end the game. So much for the offense.
Meanwhile, on a bump near you: Chris Ellis looked erratic, if we’re being honest. But the Orioles really can’t be angry at a last-minute Triple-A callup who goes 4.1 innings and gives up one run. And his stuff is interesting, at least. Commenting on the run on Ellis’ fastball, the MASN team wondered if he’d changed his arm slot over the offseason. (Note: what’s with all these pitchers having offseason renaissances? On a related note, we learned during the broadcast that on Monday night, Spenser Watkins threw the “no-dot slider”/“whirly”—a brand-new pitch he picked up during his last bullpen session. I heard of Mike Mussina doing that one time. Didn’t think it happened to mere mortals.)
As bad as the Orioles’ defense looked on Monday night, tonight it looked good. The infield helped out Ellis in the second inning when Kélvin Gutiérrez speared a ball down the line and Mountcastle made a nice pick on the one-hopper throw. Mounty plays a nice 1B, what can I say. In the fifth, Ellis exited, leaving Mike Baumann with a first-and-third, one-out jam. Flashing an electric fastball, Big Mike drew the game’s second GIDP, the Birds’ twelfth in 11 games, second-best in the league. It was huge.
But Baumann faltered in the sixth inning, and it came at a bad time. A one-out single and a walk were followed by his worst pitch of the game, a middle-middle breaking ball to Seth Brown, and two runs scored on the resulting double. Baumann then recovered, whiffing the next two A’s hitters. Not so much a meltdown as crappy luck, especially when your offense gives you no margin for error.
Other than that, the bullpen was lights out. Big Félix hit 99 mph, whiffing two of three batters he faced in a 1-2-3 eighth, including the 5’6” Tony Kemp, over whom he has a 12-inch height difference. Cionel Pérez’s ERA is still 0.00 after a clean eighth.
Moral victories are for losers, I hear. (Then again, we might ask, what is a team with a 178-356 record in its last four seasons?) But two bright spots can’t be denied. One, all of this good pitching feels like not-a-mirage. “The level of stuff in this bullpen compared to the last couple of seasons is undeniable,” said Kevin Brown. “Several notches better,” agreed Ben McDonald. Two, the results weren’t there, but the hitters didn’t give away at-bats and made tons of hard contact. If, over the course of a 162-game season, you are hitting balls with a .570, .620 and .810 xBA, eventually they will drop in.
Eventually being the key term, I guess. I can already picture the Brandon Hyde grumpy face in the postgame interview. Onto Game 3!