For two of four games this series, the Twins made the Orioles look bad, touching up their bullpen while silencing their bats. The Birds got one back on Wednesday with a rare offensive explosion. On Thursday, the good vibes kept rolling, the balls kept leaving the Yard, and the Birds managed to take two games of four from the AL Central frontrunners.
With two-time All-Star Chris Archer doing battle with the never-hyped Spenser Watkins, already defying odds because he’s still pitching in the Majors, this starter matchup was one that looked lopsided from the start.
But for throwers from opposite sides of the baseball tracks, the outcome was pretty similar. In fact, you might caption it as, “Two Vulnerable Starters Throw Lots of Sliders, Leave Game Early.” Both pitchers allowed a long ball or more, gave up a couple of runs, and neither lasted five innings. Watkins has been throwing a slider for about three weeks, yet it’s now his best pitch, with a 32% whiff rate and .083 opponent average against. Meanwhile, Archer’s slider has always been vicious, and he got six strikeouts on the pitch. But both pitchers looked hittable when they threw fastballs. Six home runs were hit today, three off the starters, all six on heaters. And both starters were out before the sixth inning, leaving a tied 3-3 game.
The Orioles touched up Archer first with a single swing in the second inning. While MASN’s Melanie Newman and Ben McDonald talked “Cinco de Taco,” Ryan Mountcastle crushed a fastball deep to centerfield. Eyeball test says: Mountcastle’s bat speed is looking incredible these days. Rock that home run chain, Mounty!
The Twins answered back, tying up the game in pretty much the opposite way: a bunch of ground balls and a pair of awful infield throws. A leadoff single preceded a slow roller to Ramón Urías, who, doing a terrible Manny Machado impression, threw wide of first to put men on second and third. Watkins, nibbling too much, walked catcher Ryan Jeffers to load ‘em up. A double play ground ball would be great right about now, commented the announcers. Watkins got exactly that—but 2B Rougned Odor threw grotesquely wide of first. I had to look up the rules to figure out why it wasn’t an error on Odor, and even now, I’m not sure. The ball bounced away, scoring one. But Mountcastle recovered it quickly and alertly fired home. He saved his team a run: a second Twins runner was erased at the plate.
The Orioles surged back into the lead when Mullins hit the second dinger of the game, tagging a high Archer fastball out to center-left. Power drought? What power drought? Mountcastle’s time with the home run chain was short, indeed.
Watkins got a lift from his defense in the fourth when two blazing ground balls—one at Mountcastle, one into the left-field corner—turned into an out at home on a gorgeous Austin Hays one-hopper to the plate. A Hayser Beam, the O’s Twitter account called it—heh. See for yourself:
By the fifth inning and 55 pitches in, I thought Watkins looked gassed. I guess I was right. After walking the leadoff hitter and striking out the next two (give Chirinos major credit here for great pitch-calling, not to mention his excellent defense all game), Watkins left a slow fastball in the middle of the plate to Byron Buxton. Like that, the Orioles were down 3-2. For an encore, Watkins hit Carlos Correa and gave up a single before giving way to Félix Bautista, who quickly ended the inning.
Momentum surged right back toward the O’s when Jorge Mateo tied the game with a third dinger, cranking a high fastball from reliever Caleb Thielbar into the Orioles’ bullpen, where Travis Lakins Sr. ended up with the ball and proceeded to examine it thoroughly. Anyway, it was a fabulous swing.
It was a battle of the bullpens from that point on. Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker and Paul Fry—yes, Paul Fry!—came in and delivered, allowing just one hit, two walks, and no runs between them.
The O’s wasted chances in the sixth and seventh, most unfortunately on a thrilling two-out triple off the scoreboard by the red-hot Mateo.
But these O’s hitters have cleverly found a loophole: if you can’t hit with RISP, just hit long balls instead. Against Jhoan Duran, one of the Twins’ top bullpen arms, Austin Hays drove a ball 409 feet over The Wall! Hays was contagiously pumped up. Duran looked stunned. He looked even more so when the next batter, Ryan Mountcastle went oppo on him, his second home run of the game.
Back-to-back jacks for the Orioles, for the first time this season. The home run chain, promiscuously making the rounds from O’s hitter to hitter. And a 5-3 lead in the hands of Jorge López in the ninth.
López didn’t even break a sweat, going three-up, three-down and fanning Buxton with 99 in on his hands.
After last night’s offensive outburst, Cedric Mullins cracked a big smile and told reporters, “Man, that felt good.” Five home runs to send Minnesota packing? Pretty good, indeed.
Who was tonight’s Most Birdland Player?
This poll is closed
Austin Hays (2-for-4, dinger, laser to the plate)
Ryan Mountcastle (2-for-4, two dingers, infield assist at the plate)
Jorge Mateo (2-for-3, triple, dinger)
The Bullpen (5.1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB)