Appearances can be deceiving, if you’ll forgive the cliché. But a lot of things happened on Saturday that didn’t feel like they were supposed to.
Cleveland’s stringy fireballer Triston McKenzie boasts a 2.65 ERA and the second-lowest WHIP in baseball. (When you look at the guy, it doesn’t seem to make sense, either.) The Birds managed only three hits against him in seven innings. Yet three of those hits were of the “gone yard” variety, and so improbably, Baltimore pinned five runs on McKenzie before he went to the showers, his worst outing of the year.
And even though Tyler Wells was yanked after 61 pitches and just four innings—and even though Keegan Akin picked today to put up one of his worst outings of the season (2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB)—the bullpen nursed a one-run lead through four innings to close out the win. Cleveland is one of the best-hitting teams with RISP; today they went 0-for-6. It was nice.
For the Orioles’ starter, it was a weird day. Wells struggled slightly with command, walking two and allowing two solo home runs on middle-middle fastballs to José Ramírez and Oscar González. His stuff wasn’t as sharp as it was in his previous lockdown start against Boston.
But he didn’t get into any real trouble, the two solo bombs the only hits he allowed all day, so it was weird to see him get the axe so early. Fortunately, after the game MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported that Hyde said that today “was going to be a day of a shortened outing [for Wells]” for precautionary reasons only. (Good, because if Wells was hurt, I was planning to melt into a puddle of tears.)
Anyway, it was a weird sort of pitchers’ duel in which neither starter allowed more than three hits, except that all of those hits went for home runs. For the O’s, hitting .236 in their last week, this was a nice change.
After José Ramírez had put them in a 1-0 hole in the top of the first, the Orioles answered right back with a long ball of their own when Trey Mancini took a McKenzie fastball and blasted it, not into but rather over the Orioles’ bullpen, 438 feet away. MASN’s Jim Palmer opined, “That would have been a home run in Yosemite Park.”
The Orioles were struggling to make hard contact against McKenzie, but in the third inning the beanpole righty did them a little favor. Cedric Mullins worked a one-out walk, and Mancini didn’t have to work anything, taking four pitches clearly outside the zone. Santander drove a ball to the warning track that the talented centerfielder Myles Straw gobbled up for the second out. It’s fortunate that there are three outs in baseball innings, because the next man up, Austin Hays got a hanging slider and crushed that thing over Mt. Walltimore. The Birds were up 4-2.
You’d never know that, after a red-hot May, Rougned Odor is averaging .125 in the last week, because he, too, joined the dong parade with authority. In the fifth inning, Odor scooped a low slider up, out, and 393 feet away, becoming the 54th Oriole to hit Eutaw Street. He knew it the whole time, too:
Odor's blast did indeed land on Eutaw Street, the 54th by an Oriole in Camden Yards' history. It's just the third game in the ballpark's history with multiple Eutaw homers in a game.— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) June 4, 2022
And as per usual, el lo sabía pic.twitter.com/9b4XOcpeKp
A 5-2 lead felt really good, but Cleveland closed the gap awfully quickly in the fifth against an uncharacteristically hittable-looking Keegan Akin (admittedly working on somewhat short rest). The lefty allowed two straight singles, a walk, then two run-scoring grounders as the Guardians closed the lead to 5-4. (The inning could have ended 5-3, but Rougned Odor whiffed as a runner went by him on the basepaths.)
The Orioles had 12 more outs to get and just a one-run lead. I felt pretty pessimistic about our chances, truthfully. But I know I should never have doubted our guys.
Akin allowed a warning-track flyball in the sixth, but managed to get out of it. Félix Bautista relieved him in the seventh, and received a huge assist from Jorge Mateo, so valuable as a shortstop lately. Oscar González hit a grounder that took Mateo way into left field. Mateo turned his body back toward first and fired the ball probably over 130 feet to somehow nab the runner. “Nobody makes that, play, nobody,” said Jim Palmer. It was one of those plays that makes you reach back into your baseball hard drive and wonder when you’ve seen a longer throw by a shortstop.
Onto the eighth, and that made it Dillon Tate’s turn to try to stem the Cleveland tide. A leadoff double by Steven Kwan didn’t help—but it’s true that Tate never makes things look easy. A deep flyball, the first out, moved Kwan over to third. Facing Amed Rosario, Tate missed wide in the zone a few times, but an outside fastball got a huge swinging strike three.
Brandon Hyde was taking no chances: after Tate intentionally walked José Ramírez, Hyde brought in his closer Jorge López for a four-out save.
This decision looked like a mixed bag, at first: it was terrifying when, up 0-2 against Owen Miller, López plunked him to load the bases. Facing Josh Naylor, who is built like a refrigerator, López spiked a changeup. Last year, as Jim Palmer observed, it would have rolled to the backstop and tied the game. Instead, Robinson Chirinos ably smothered the ball. López went 3-2 to the dangerous Naylor, with nowhere to put him: Naylor cracked a ball to center, but right there was Mullins. Birdland let out a collective exhale.
With his son Mikael again watching live (what a cute story), López came back in search of three more outs. He got a pair of quick grounders from González and Andrés Giménez. The Guardians pinch hit lefty Richie Palacios, hitting .326 in 46 at-bats this season. López threw Palacios an 84-mph knuckle curve for a strike, then served him a 99-mph fastball on the corner (a ball), and a nasty changeup for strike two. Who would want to face López when he looks like this? Finally, López finished Palacios off with 99 at the top of the zone—a fastball so nasty I made a literal yuck face as Palacios swung through it.
López was pumped, and so were the rest of us. Cleveland may have entered Saturday’s contest a sub-.500 team, but let’s not take for granted this huge bullpen effort, gutting out five innings—four scoreless, and with only a one-run cushion, against a lineup featuring six batting averages over .280. (Not to be a bummer, but let me remind you that the Orioles have seven players hitting .240 or below.)
It was a hard-fought contest, with the Birds doing just enough to win. Feels good.
Who was the Most Birdland Player on Saturday?
This poll is closed
Austin Hays (1-for-4, Earl Weaver Special, 3 RBI)
Rougned Odor (1-for-2, BB, pimped a Eutaw Street home run)
Trey Mancini (1-for-3, 438-foot HR, 2 R, BB, eluded Mt. Walltimore)
Jorge López (1.1 IP, K, save, escaped bases-loaded jam, general nastiness)