It’s a time of optimism for O’s fans. The long winter of AL East beatdowns and contemptuous Buster Olney tweets seems to be melting and the spring—new prospects, good defense, competitive outcomes—is springing. Those lopsided matchups of the past—Gerrit Cole or Robbie Ray or Shane Baz vs. [every Orioles pitcher]—are getting fewer and fewer. (Actually, the Orioles saw all three of those guys this season and won all three of the latest matchups. Heh.)
But we’re not out of the woods yet. Every now and then, a Friday night rolls around, you’ll check your MLB At-Bat app and see a matchup like this: Austin Voth vs. Michael Kopech. That’s Michael Kopech, who’s looked ace-like for Chicago this season (a 2.38 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 21 games) and Austin Voth, a 5.61 career-ERA guy the Orioles picked up off of waivers in June, nobody too excited about it, leading off an emergency bullpen game today because Kyle Bradish is on the 15-day IL with right shoulder inflammation.
A lopsided matchup … just the way these Orioles like it! Because while the Birds never got anything going Michael Kopech, racking up a paltry three hits in six innings, they scraped out three unlikely runs to pin him with the loss while a bullpen lineup of Voth, Joey Krehbiel, Bryan Baker, Cionel Pérez and Jorge López allowed a single White Sox hit in nine innings. Just the way Brandon Hyde drew it up.
Kopech has held hitters to a .157 average this year. Leading off the game, Cedric Mullins said, Cool, I’ll just drop the perfect bunt, steal second, advance to third on a bounceout, and then score on a wild pitch (which sailed in about a yard off the plate). That smooth operator! That’s how you score runs off a good starter.
The Orioles had nothing going against Kopech in the second, but with two outs and a 1-2 count to Jorge Mateo, Kopech decided to plunk the O’s No. 8 hitter right in the back, and the inning suddenly got interesting. A furious Mateo marched down to first, jawing in the direction of the infield. Both benches cleared. Announcer Jim Palmer deemed it an open-and-shut case: Dean Kremer had hit Josh Harrison the night before, and this, to manager Tony La Russa and the White Sox, was payback.
One question, though: “If you’re going to hit somebody,” wondered MASN’s Kevin Brown, “why would you hit the third-fastest guy in the league?”
Why, indeed? A fired-up Mateo easily stole second. The light-hitting Richie Martin was up, and Kopech served him a curveball. Martin poked it to right field, and Jorge Mateo rounded the bases and scored without a throw. A free second run—thanks, Chicago! Richie Martin stole second himself—then, on the very next pitch, third! Cedric Mullins couldn’t bring Martin home, but a hit batsman, a bench-clearing fracas, and three Orioles stolen bases in the inning: it was gleeful mayhem.
In the top of the fourth, Adley “Rooster” Rutschman showed off his great eye, laying off a number of strike-to-ball offerings—so Kopech threw him a fastball, and Adley pounded it into the right-field corner (he can’t seem to stop doing that these days...). A groundout sent him to third. With two outs, Jorge Mateo came to the plate, visions of a revenge RBI dancing in his head. Well, if not technically, he got it in spirit. Down 3-1 in the count, Kopech did a little flinch thing before throwing Mateo a ball inside. “That’s a balk!” yelled the ump. Adley, looking perplexed, trotted home. A third weird run for the Orioles! Mateo came back to the plate: Kopech walked him again. Then Mateo stole second, the Orioles’ fifth SB of the game (they hadn’t done that since 2007). The thought crossed my mind that, if I were a White Sox fan, I’d be losing my s*** right now. But I’m not, and instead this was a lot of fun. Who needs RBIs? Just screw with the pitcher’s head!
Meanwhile, the unheralded Austin Voth actually had himself a nice day: although he allowed a run to Chicago on a walk and a double, he also gave Brandon Hyde three innings and whiffed three hitters, including 2020 AL ROY-runner up Luis Robert, twice. Voth drew nine swings and misses, including three whiffs on four very devious curveballs. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but … I want to see more of Austin Voth!
When the fourth inning rolled around, I was just hoping that Joey Krehbiel wouldn’t come in and spoil the fun. He did not. Krehbiel did his funny clap-clap windup thing, threw a ton of nasty changeups, and allowed zero hits in a clean fourth, fifth, and one out in the sixth. Notably, Krehbiel fell behind 3-0 to Tim Anderson, one of the best hitters in the game, then came back and struck him out with … something with crazy break on it! 2.1 innings, no hits, no walks, 3 strikeouts—a huge day for Joey Krehbiel.
Bryan Baker has also joined the mustache brigade. When he trotted out to relieve Krehbiel in the sixth, I said aloud to the TV, “Oh no, not Bryan Baker!” Keep the mustache, this was a really good Bryan Baker. Baker ended the sixth on just six pitches and struck out former MVP José Abreu with 98-mph heat on the corner in the seventh before giving way to Cionel Pérez.
Pérez pitched a beautiful inning of his own, rolling through Jake Burger and Leury García and then, facing pinch hitter Seby Zavala, uncorking two rare two-seam fastballs before freezing him with a 98-mph four-seamer on the corner. Jorge López pitched the ninth with a 4-1 lead. Yawn, an easy 13th save for López. (We are spoiled.)
It was a hell of a day for the bullpen: all they did was retire the last 19 hitters in a game they seemed fated to lose. Not bad for an emergency start.
Meanwhile, the Orioles, held hitless by Kopech for the better part of four innings, scored a fourth and final run when Trey Mancini doubled off the wall against reliever Vince Velasquez, and an out later, Austin Hays drilled a slider just two feet short of being a home run. Besides the Adley double, those were just the second and third hard-hit balls the Orioles had against the Chicago staff all evening. Kind of crazy how it works out sometimes.
Who was the Most Birdland Player on Friday, June 24?
This poll is closed
Austin Voth (because, like, who is Austin Voth?)
Joey Krehbiel (2.0 IP, W, 0 H, 3 K)
Cedric Mullins (1-for-4, manufactured first run with bunt single and SB)
Jorge Mateo (0-for-2, R, HBP, BB, 2 SB, messed with the starter)
Richie Martin (1-for-4, RBI, 2 SB in same inning)
Austin Hays (1-for-4, 2B, RBI)