Get the word out across the land: it’s never too late to hop on the Orioles bandwagon.
The suddenly promising-looking club secured its fifth win in six games with a crisply played 5-3 interleague victory over the Cardinals. And it’s not just that the Orioles won — it’s how they won that should put a smile on the face of any O’s fan. Rookie right-hander Kyle Bradish unfurled the most dominant start of his young career, a seven-inning, 11-strikeout masterpiece, and fellow rookie and massive human being Felix Bautista showed closer stuff in racking up a huge, game-ending strikeout to seal the win in the ninth. There were also contributions from the usual sources, of course, including Cedric Mullins’ four-hit day.
The Orioles, playing their first game in St. Louis since June 2003, caught a break when Cardinals ace and three-time All-Star Adam Wainwright was deemed ineligible to return from the COVID-19 injured list to make tonight’s start. Instead, the assignment went to left-hander Packy Naughton, definitely one of the top 10 Packys in baseball history.
To his credit, Naughton, who hadn’t worked more than 1.1 innings in any outing this season, lasted into the fourth tonight. He fell victim, though, to a pair of long balls. Cedric Mullins struck first, crushing a two-run homer to right field in the third inning, his team-leading fifth of the season (breaking a tie with Ryan Mountcastle). The blast was part of a four-hit day for Mullins, who now has 17 hits — including three roundtrippers — in his last 10 games. Cedric is back, y’all. Was there ever any doubt?
An inning later, Tyler Nevin clubbed a solo home run to left-center, his first of the year and second of his career. That homer prompted Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol to pull Packy Naughton from the game. If I were him, I would’ve said, “Packy your bags! Har har!” I’m guessing Marmol did not say that.
The Orioles continued to tack on runs against the Cardinals’ bullpen, though in each case, it felt like they should’ve done more. In the fifth, a Mullins single and Trey Mancini hit by pitch preceded an Anthony Santander double against Kodi Whitley that made it a 4-0 game. With two in scoring position and one out, though, strikeouts of Austin Hays and Nevin snuffed any further threat.
In the sixth, the O’s put the first two batters aboard, only for a Chris Owings bunt to go disastrously wrong. He popped the bunt straight up in the air, and pitcher Nick Wittgren made the savvy decision to pretend to catch it and let it drop at the last second, leaving both runners in no-man’s land on the basepaths. The Cards turned it into a third-to-second double play. Still, the Orioles didn’t go away empty-handed. Back-to-back singles by Mullins and Mancini plated Owings to extend the O’s lead to 5-0. Not a bad night with the bats.
It was Kyle Bradish, though, who stole the show.
The Orioles’ 25-year-old right-hander, making his third major league start, was absolutely brilliant tonight. His fastball had great life, his breaking pitches tied hitters up in knots, and he commanded the strike zone with authority, not issuing a single walk all game. For a guy whose career minor league walk rate hovered around four per nine innings, his impeccable control tonight was a most promising sign.
Bradish was incredibly efficient for the first five innings, facing the minimum 15 batters during that span. The Cards managed a pair of singles in the first two innings, but each was erased on an Orioles specialty, the double play. Bradish needed only seven pitches to set down the side in the third, then racked up a pair of strikeouts apiece in a perfect fourth and fifth. Cardinals hitters simply seemed to have no chance.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Bradish faced some real adversity, but he overcame it with flying colors. In consecutive at-bats, Bradish got ahead in the count 0-2 but then hung a slider in the middle of the plate that got crushed. The first was by Yadier Molina, who swatted a double to the gap in right-center. And the next was, well, one of those plays that’s always exciting to see as a fan, even when it’s the opposing team doing it. Harrison Bader crushed a shot to deep center. Mullins made a leaping attempt at the wall, but the ball deflected off the fence and then off his leg, kicking all the way down the warning track past the left fielder Santander. As the O’s outfielders chased in vain, the speedy Bader raced all the way around the bases for an inside-the-park home run, which he punctuated with a needless slide into home.
Bradish seemed like he might be on the verge of a breakdown, similar to his rocky, four-run fourth inning in his previous start. But a visit from pitching coach Chris Holt got him back on track. Bradish unleashed beast mode, striking out the next three batters — Brendan Donovan, Tommy Edman, and Paul Goldschmidt — in quick succession, pumping his fist as he left the mound.
Even after that long sixth inning, Bradish’s pitch count was a reasonable 78 after six innings, prompting manager Brandon Hyde to give him another frame. It was a good decision. Bradish ripped off another 1-2-3 inning, notching two more strikeouts to bring his final total to 11.
Seven innings, two runs, 11 strikeouts, no walks. What an outing for Bradish. He became the first rookie Orioles pitcher to post double-digit strikeouts in a game since Wei-Yin Chen in 2012. It was also the Orioles’ fourth consecutive quality start. (Spenser Watkins, it’s up to you to keep the streak going tomorrow.)
Still, the O’s had to sweat out the win at the end. Joey Krehbiel worked a scoreless eighth, taking advantage of another double play, but Dillon Tate — filling in for usual closer Jorge Lopez, who is on the bereavement list — was extremely shaky in the ninth. Tate’s been pretty good this year, but whether it was the yips or just a lack of command, he couldn’t get the job done in the ninth.
The inning began with Donovan’s first major league home run, shaving the lead to 5-3, and Edman poked a single against the shift to bring the tying run to the plate. Goldschmidt made good contact and drove one deep to left — off the bat I was sure it was a game-tying homer — but Santander flagged it down in front of the warning track for the first out. Right fielder Austin Hays made a nice play on a Nolan Arenado sinking liner for out number two.
But Tate lost control. His first pitch to Juan Yepez came way inside and went to the backstop for a wild pitch. His second pitch then hit Yepez square in the arm. Hyde had seen enough, giving the jittery Tate the hook and calling for the flamethrowing Felix Bautista.
Facing the potential winning run, Bautista showed no fear. He started Tyler O’Neill with four straight fastballs — clocked at 99, 99, 100, and 101 mph — and then absolutely made a fool of him by whipping out an 89-mph slider that nearly hit O’Neill’s feet as he haplessly swung and missed. Strike three. Game over. Nicely done, Felix.
And nicely done, Orioles. That’s how you win a ballgame.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Tuesday, May 10?
Kyle Bradish (7 IP, 2 ER, 11 K, first MLB win)
Cedric Mullins (4-for-5, HR)
Felix Bautista (game-ending K, first MLB save)