It’s not like the Orioles didn’t have enough pitching problems already, what with two starters (John Means and Chris Ellis) out for the year and also what with just being the Orioles. Then Friday and Saturday’s consecutive rainouts last weekend threw off the rotation and left the team short-handed. So while the Birds are bringing the big guns to Detroit in the form of Lyles, Zimmerman and Wells, in St. Louis they were forced to send into battle a motley bullpen crew in Game 3.
That’s how, on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Orioles fans were treated to the following lopsided pitching matchup: left-handed veteran Steven Matz, in his eighth season, versus Bryan Baker, with a 5.40 ERA and all of 13 MLB appearances to his name. With a 4.33 career ERA, Matz isn’t quite an All-Star marquee name: he spent six decent years in NY and one with Toronto before signing with St. Louis in 2022, a 4-year, $44 million contract that apparently made a lot of St. Louisans grumble. His season hadn’t been stellar entering this one: a 3-2 record and 7.01 ERA. Still, you had to imagine Cardinals fans liked their odds today.
But such is the game of baseball that crazy things sometimes happen. As it turned out, it was Matz, not Baker, who blinked first. And it was the pitching-strapped Orioles who threw a random bunch of arms out there and miraculously escaped with a victory in Game 3 and the series.
The Orioles made a bunch of noise against the Cardinals starter from the get-go, and in the top of the second, the noise turned into a run when Jorge Mateo cranked a two-out blast to center field to put the Orioles up 1-0. (Mateo, doing it with the bat!) After a diving-stop robbery at third in the bottom half of the first, newly-called up Rylan Bannon made himself felt at the plate, too, with a cracking single. He got stranded, but still: Welcome to the bigs, Rylan. (Note: I was at Busch Stadium today, taking it all in live, and the crack of the bat may have been the most glorious part of the day.)
There were more noisy balls against Matz in the third, but little to show for it: Austin Hays cranked a ball to deep left, but 342 feet later, it died in outfielder Tyler O’Neill’s glove. Another dead ball casualty!
Unfortunately for the O’s, Matz settled down, skating through the fourth, fifth, and sixth. The Birds strung together a pair of singles against Matz in the fourth, courtesy of Trey Mancini and Tyler Nevin, to bring up Bannon in a two-out, high-leverage situation: the righty flew out deep to the right-field warning track, but he can’t exactly be blamed.
Matz was back out in the seventh. In retrospect, the Cards overplayed their hand. Bem-boom! Anthony Bemboom’s first dinger of the year, a lefty-on-lefty assault on a curveball that practically screamed, Hit me, I’m just hanging out here. Matz then allowed a single to Chris Owings before getting yanked. How does it feel to be homered on by a backup Orioles catcher with a .120 average before giving up a single to a guy with a 50% K rate? Guess we’ll never know.
Against the lefty Genesis Cabrera, Cedric Mullins wasted no time in driving in the Orioles’ third run of the game: Owings had stolen second a pitch before—a nice move, you have to give him that—and he was able to round the bases and score on Mullins’ single. 3-0 Orioles.
Orioles relievers were a little scary today, if we’re being honest, though you can’t quibble with the results. As little faith as I had in a Bryan Baker start, he was actually the most effective Orioles arm of the day, making it through 2.1 scoreless innings—the longest appearance of his career—with three strikeouts and just a single allowed. He was pulled in the third inning after allowing a single, and Keegan Akin came in, all business, scaring up an immediate double-play ball to end the inning.
But Akin got into hot water in the fourth. Down 2-0 to Tommy Edman, he surrendered a leadoff single. He struck out Paul Goldschmidt and got the fearsome Nolan Arenado to fly out, but walked Juan Yepez on four pitches to bring up future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Pujols battled for 10 pitches before drawing a walk. Bases jammed, two outs. Akin got Tyler O’Neill whiffing on some nasty loopy stuff. Exhale.
Uncharacteristic of Akin to have to throw 32 pitches in an inning, but at least he put up a zero. A better man in the fifth, Akin got a quick groundout, whiffed catcher Andrew Knizner on three pitches, and fanned Cardinals shortstop Brendan Donovan on 95 mph heat.
Akin passed the baton to Dillon Tate, fresh off that ninth-inning near-fiasco on Tuesday. Tate got two quick outs (one on a a highly memeable changeup to make Goldschmidt look foolish, the other on a grounder up the middle that Mateo scooped up, ranging over like 45 feet of ground to the 2B side—estimating here). But Tate allowed a double down the line to Arenado and, against the scary Juan Yepez, a foul ball that missed the home run pole by inches. A grounder to Rylan Bannon, showing a most pleasing arm, ended the threat. Why is it never easy with Dillon Tate?
After Tate, Cionel Pérez came in for the seventh and immediately plunked pinch hitter Corey Dickerson on the elbow with a 97-mph fastball. It was ugly. Down 3-0 to Tyler O’Neill, Pérez somehow pulled a double play ball out of his top hat to empty the bases. Good thing, too, because the next man up homered, cutting the Orioles’ lead to 3-1. Pérez reared back for a swinging K.
Next man up: Joey Krehbiel. More jitters. Krehbiel walked the leadoff man, then allowed a one- out single to put guys on the corners for Nolan Arenado. A sac fly cut the lead to 3-2.
With the game on the line, Brandon Hyde turned to Félix Bautista for a four-out save. A stolen base attempt and a throwing error on Bemboom put a runner 90 feet away from home with two outs and Juan Yepez, a new Cardinal hitting .414 in 29 at-bats, at the plate. Yepez made contact on a fastball and the whole stadium exploded. But the ball found its way safely into Austin Hays’ glove. And ... exhale.
Bautista began the ninth against the bottom of the Cards lineup. With one out, outfielder Tyler O’Neill blooped a ball just over Trey Mancini’s outstretched glove. Suddenly, the crowd was alive again. Dylan Carlson battled, then blooped another ball to shallow centerfield. A game-tying double? No, siree—here, again, Mateo’s range was the difference maker: he tracked down the ball down, snared it, then fired to first for a bloop-popout double play to end the game.
The fans were absolutely stunned, and I trust that includes Orioles fans, too.
A bullpen game against a competing Cardinals team. Keegan Akin nabbing his first win of the year, and Félix Bautista notching his second save this week. Can you even believe this team??? Now on to Detroit!
Who was the Most Birdland Player for May 12?
This poll is closed
Bryan Baker (2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K’s)
Jorge Mateo (1-for-4, HR, great D, game-ending DP)
Anthony Bemboom (1-for-4, HR)
Félix Bautista (1.1 IP, four-out save, hit 102 on the radar gun several times)