The recently anointed Birdland Gas Co. came into the series against the Twins as arguably the best bullpen in baseball. They left Saturday’s game against the Twins the victims of two straight walk-offs
After giving up a game-winning home run to Byron Buxton on Friday, closer Jorge Lopez blew his second save in as many days when Jorge Polanco homered to lead off the ninth. Lopez has been a player who has provided so much joy for Orioles fans early this year, as his improbable rise from bottom-of-the-barrel starter to elite closer has been one of 2022’s best stories. Yet, as Jose Miranda’s game-winning single flew over Tyler Nevin and into left field, Lopez was once again the source of only shock and disappointment for Os fans.
The bullpen as a whole was not its dominant self Saturday afternoon. Dillon Tate allowed two hits in the 8th, which ultimately resulted in the Twins’ second run when Felix Bautista gave up a sacrifice fly to Carlos Correa. After getting out of the eighth with the lead still intact, it felt like the Orioles may still hang on for the win. However, a game that started with a one-hour rain delay ultimately ended with plenty of gloom for Birdland.
Lopez’s blown save overshadowed an amazing pitching performance from starter Jordan Lyles. Coming into the game, the Orioles seemed to be on the back foot when it came to the matchup of starters. Lyles had suffered on the road all season, to the tune of a 6.47 road ERA in nine starts. Combine that with the Twins going with their best starter in Sonny Gray, and it looked like Minnesota would have the edge early.
However, Lyles turned in, without a doubt, his best performance as an Orioles to date. Most of the 12-year vet’s success came down to his ability to keep the ball down. Of the 19 Twins that Lyle’s retired, 14 outs came on pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or lower. It wasn’t just one pitch that Lyles kept down either. His first strikeout came off a low curveball to Jorge Polanco in the second. He also punched out Carlos Correa and Max Kepler in the third, and Gary Sanchez in the fifth, on sliders that started in the zone and then tailed out of it. His fastball even got in on the act, striking out Gio Urshela and Polanco on low heaters in the fifth and seventh.
The sequence that best optimized Lyles’ success on Saturday was the Houdini act he pulled in the third inning. A single from Gio Urshela and double from Luis Arraez meant that Lyles was staring down a second and third, no-out jam. The Orioles’ ace then proceeded to get Byron Buxton to pop out to the short, before the strikeout of Correa and Kepler. The escape act fueled Lyles the rest of the way. Starting with the popout from Buxton, Lyles retired 13 straight Twins, stretching from the third into the seventh.
The only Twins hitter who had any real success against Lyles on Saturday was second-year outfielder Nick Gordon. The center fielder singled off a low changeup in the second for the Twins’ first hit. In the fourth, he launched a curveball below the zone deep into left field, only for Anthony Santander to make an outstanding catch right at the wall. Gordon would then end Lyles’ day in the seventh, homering to center on his 100th pitch of the day—a fastball at the knees.
Gray came into the game with a 2.17 ERA, fresh off a start of seven shutout innings in Cleveland. However, the Orioles found early success against Gray’s best pitch—the sinker—powering the Birds to an early lead. Ryan Mountcastle turned a first-pitch sinker into a double to lead off the second. Tyler Nevin then put an inside-out swing on a sinker three batters later to drive home Mountcastle—and claimed a double of his own.
Gray’s other plus pitches—his fastball and curveball—didn’t necessarily yield better results. Anthony Santander hit a home run to right field in the third off an up-and-in fastball—extending the lead to 2-0. Rougned Odor then launched a curveball away to left field for a double to lead off the fourth. The Orioles would get one more run off the sinker, as Matero sent a sinker into center for a sacrifice fly, scoring Odor.
Overall, it was only the second time Gray had allowed three runs this season. The six Orioles hits were also tied for the second most Gray has allowed this year. Perhaps Gray’s struggles were due to his battery mate on Saturday. Dating back to their time together with the Yankees, the battery of Gray and Gary Sanchez had combined for a 5.89 ERA. Giving up three runs in five innings means that the pair did actually lower their combined ERA—but not enough to help the Twins early on.
The win for Minnesota reversed a recent trend when it comes to coming from behind to win. Since the start of June, the Twins were 2-11 in games where the opponent scored first. In the games where the Twins scored first—since 6/1—they were 12-4. So basically, nothing about Saturday’s game made any sense.
The Orioles’ loss drops the Birds to 4-5 on their 10-game road trip. While a win on Sunday and a .500 road trip would certainly seem like a positive on paper, the sour taste from this series in Minneapolis is sure to linger. Still hope always springs anew with the 2022 Orioles, and maybe we’ll get a thorough beatdown of the Twins on Sunday to help us all forget.