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Mancini’s improbable inside-the-park homer spurs Orioles to win over Rays, 3-0

The fan favorite, in what might have been his last O’s at-bat at Camden Yards, pulled off the most incredible of feats.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

My goodness. You couldn’t have written a more fantastic script than what played out on the Camden Yards field this afternoon.

It had to be seen to be believed. Trey Mancini, the longest tenured Oriole, the universally beloved clubhouse leader and fan favorite, the inspirational comeback king, stepped to the plate in the eighth inning for what might have been his final at-bat in front of the home crowd. On Mo Gaba Day, a celebration of the late young superfan and Orioles Hall of Famer with whom Mancini shared a special bond.

And he hit a home run.

Oh, but it wasn’t just any home run. If this were a movie, Mancini would’ve just blasted a no-doubter into the seats and casually trotted the bases to the roar of the crowd. But where’s the fun in that?

No, this was the wackiest home run of Trey Mancini’s career, a seemingly routine fly ball that landed squarely on the head of right fielder Josh Lowe, who had lost it in the sun. As the ball bounced away with no Rays fielder within 100 yards, Mancini huffed and puffed all the way around the basepaths, sliding safely into home with his first ever inside-the-park home run.

It wasn’t a mammoth blast. And it’s possible the scoring will later be changed to an error, as it probably should be. But if that was Mancini’s final home at-bat in an Orioles uniform — the O’s will be on the road when the Aug. 2 trade deadline arrives — it was a hell of a way to go out.

“I can’t believe that just happened,” Mancini said in his MASN post-game interview. “I think an inside-the-park home run is probably the craziest thing and definitely the least probability of anything that’s happened in my career. For it to happen today on Mo Gaba Day of all days, I know he was up there smiling and laughing at me running around the bases. You can’t script it better than that.”

Mancini’s hustle play, scoring Austin Hays before him, provided insurance for a 3-0 O’s win, sealing a series victory and pushing the Birds back over .500. The Orioles’ ninth shutout was a credit to a pitching staff that worked its way out of trouble throughout the day.

Starter Jordan Lyles, despite a laborious 24-pitch first inning — which featured a couple of infield hits on defensive miscues — battled through struggles with his command to come within one out of throwing the Orioles’ first quality start in the last 11 games. (Lyles himself had the last one, a July 12 gem at Wrigley Field.) He wasn’t facing the most intimidating Rays lineup — Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz were both on the bench, further depleting an injury-decimated team — but Lyles kept the Rays off the scoreboard all the same. The second inning through the fourth were Lyles’ easiest; he retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, never putting a runner in scoring position.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who was announced as the Rays’ starter on less than 24 hours’ notice, stymied the Orioles. His first two innings each followed an identical pattern: out, single, strikeout, strikeout. In the third, though, the Orioles broke through for the first and only time against him. Austin Hays was drilled in the back — the second straight day Hays has been hit by a pitch, which left him none too pleased, though he exacted some revenge by stealing second base. Anthony Santander then laced a double to the right-center gap to bring him home, giving the O’s a 1-0 lead.

Besides that, though, Yarbrough was brilliant. After the Santander double, the lefty retired 10 of the final 11 O’s batters he faced, striking out three. Like Lyles, Yarbrough wasn’t facing his opponent’s A lineup, as Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman both had the afternoon off. But Yarbrough dazzled with six strong innings of work and eight strikeouts. He now has a 2.35 ERA in three games against the Orioles this year...and 6.35 ERA against everyone else.

With just one run to work with for most of the afternoon, the O’s pitching staff made it stand up, though it wasn’t easy. Lyles had trouble throwing strikes in his final two innings. In the former, he committed the cardinal sin of walking the #8 and #9 hitters, but he was fortunate to escape with no damage. Brandon Lowe swung at a 2-0 pitch and popped out harmlessly, and Ji-Man Choi grounded out to short.

In the sixth, after retiring the first two batters, Lyles couldn’t find the elusive third out. He surrendered a single to Josh Lowe and then walked Roman Quinn on a 3-2 pitch. With Lyles’ pitch count at 106, Brandon Hyde could take him no further. Lyles finished with 5.2 scoreless innings, but the Orioles’ quality start drought has reached 11 in a row.

No matter. Once the O’s bullpen gets involved, good things usually happen. Today was no exception, even with several relievers (including Jorge Lopez, Dillon Tate, and Keegan Akin) presumably unavailable after pitching two straight days. Cionel Pérez was first out of the ‘pen and his usual dominant self, striking out the pinch-hitter Arozarena to strand his two inherited runners, then working a scoreless seventh.

Bryan Baker, who usually doesn’t get set-up work, was pressed into eighth-inning duty today and...wasn’t great. Though he got two outs, he also plunked a batter and walked one, leaving it up to the unstoppable Félix Bautista to work out of the mess. He did so with ease, blowing away Arozarena on three pitches, including an unhittable splitter to end the at-bat. The one-run lead was secure, and Bautista worked a perfect ninth after Mancini’s heroics made it a more comfortable 3-0 O’s edge.

Of course Trey was the story of the game, soaking in the adulation from the crowd after the eighth inning and doffing his cap in appreciation.

“Obviously there’s a little bit of uncertainty in the coming days,” Mancini said on MASN. “All I know is I’m here right now, I love this team, and we’re playing really good baseball. It’s been an incredible turnaround for us, and I’d like to thank the fans for all their support this year and we love you guys. It’s been a really fun year here.

“I got drafted by the Orioles nine years ago. It’s my 10th season in the organization, so it’s the only place I know, and I love it here. For the fans from Aberdeen to Delmarva to Frederick, Bowie, Norfolk, and here in Baltimore, everybody’s been incredible from the second I got drafted. And it’s home to me, no matter what. A big part of me is always going to be here.”

A class act all the way. Godspeed, Trey Mancini, for whatever comes next.

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