Two names that, last season, not even the most diehard baseball fan could be excited about. Bullpen depth, mostly likely, and we’re talking way deep in the farm system. Call ‘em The Expendables.
Until 2022, that is, when Smeltzer and Wells became full-time starters for their teams and busted out. From only 19 career games in four seasons to one of the Twins’ best starters in 2022, Smeltzer had an impressive 2-0 record and 1.50 ERA at home entering Sunday. From injury-prone giant with no results above Double A to flirting with perfection last week, Tyler Wells winked at a no-hitter tonight and has been the O’s best starter, bar none, over the last two months.
On Sunday afternoon, these unexpected aces put on a pitching clinic, trading zero after zero, two hard-throwing competitors out there trying to one up one another.
Four innings into this matchup, the two offenses had just three hits between them, all by Baltimore: a Ryan Mountcastle double in the first inning, and a pair of singles by Anthony Santander and Tyler Nevin in the fourth inning that almost turned into the game’s first run—except that Minnesota centerfielder Gilberto Celestino rung up Santander at home.
Devin Smeltzer took his turn on the mound in the fifth with the struggling Rougned Odor at the plate. Odor’s recent futility at the plate is no secret: over his last two weeks, he has an eye-popping .340… no, not average or OBP. Odor’s OPS over two weeks is .340, among the lowest I can remember, even for a platoon player.
That’s why baseball is so cool: you can sit at home in your bathrobe, scarfing whipped cream out of the can and incanting, to no one in particular, “Rougie is due. C’mon, Rougie…”—and suddenly Rougie will come through, and at that point, who’s to say you’re not magical? Odor made Smeltzer throw him nine pitches, and he drilled No. 9 to right center field, the game’s all-so-important first run.
With all we’ve seen this series, a one-run lead means exactly zilch against the Twins. We know that, Trey Mancini knows that, and he went and did something about it. Mancini was all over some chest-high thing Smeltzer threw him, launching a majestic bomb to put the Orioles up 2-0.
When it rains, sometimes it pours. A single pitch later, and it was Ryan Mountcastle’s turn to go deep. Mountcastle got around on a soft changeup and drilled a missile into the stands. Back-to-back Orioles jacks, for the ... bajillionth time. A 3-0 Orioles lead.
2 pitches. 2 homers. pic.twitter.com/YnKQ0ihy0A— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 3, 2022
Judging by the Minnesota fans’ immediate reaction, the pitchers’ duel had unraveled. The Minnesotans probably threw in the towel too soon, because in the sixth (his final) inning, Wells gave one of the runs back, nibbling too much around the corners (a leadoff walk), then allowing a two-out single to put the Twins on the board.
The Orioles certainly did not want another gut-punch loss, and manager Brandon Hyde was going to do what he had to to prevent that.
Lefty long relief man Keegan Akin replaced Wells in the seventh with hopes that he could get through nine. Alas, Akin was not himself tonight: the two outs he got were scary, noisy lineouts, then he allowed a single and a walk.
Brandon Hyde wasn’t taking any chances: with Akin ineffective and Jorge López and Félix Bautista out today, Hyde needed some late-innings depth from Joey Krehbiel. Krehbiel was as good as his word: a ground ball to a charging Richie Martin ended the threat and the seventh inning. In the eighth, Krehbiel got a quick lineout, walked Carlos Correa to send fans into butt-clutching mode, then wriggled out of trouble on two weak groundouts.
Eight scary words boomed over the speakers: Dillon Tate is warming up for the Orioles. Feast or famine, boom or bust, Tate throws magic stuff but misses a lot and seemingly more often than not, gives up the big hit.
Which Tate would take the mound? A little bit of both, especially at first, but oh, was his stuff ruthless this afternoon. Tate fell behind 3-0 to Max Kepler, located a strike, and then drew a fortunate groundout. But the more hitters Tate saw, the more he grew: the .284-hitting Kyle Garlick succumbed to 95-mph in and under the hands. Gary Sánchez: a chance to make this one close? Go home, dude! Tate didn’t break a sweat, confounding Sánchez on four straight sliders for a swinging K to end the game.
The Orioles’ three-city, ten-game road trip is done, and at the end of it, this team went 5-5, notching their first win in Minnesota since 2017. Key to that stretch: starting pitching. Want to hear a stunning stat? In their last 16 starts, O’s starters have given up one run or less thirteen times.
One of the main guys we have to thank for it: the suddenly flourishing Wells, with a 1.23 ERA in his last four starts. One area of Wells’ game that hadn’t been soaring just yet: strikeouts, just 5.6 per game... until tonight. Tonight Wells set a new career high with seven K’s. You like montages, right? I do, too. Here’s Tyler Wells whiffing guys to close us out. Enjoy!
A career-high 7 K's for Tyler Wells! pic.twitter.com/rxcp6OgJRh— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 3, 2022
Who was the Most Birdland Player on July 3?
This poll is closed
Tyler Wells (6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 7 K)
Rougned Odor (HR, broke the scoreless tie)
Ryan Mountcastle (2-for-4, 2B, HR, XBH machine)
Dillon Tate (pulled off the elusive ninth-inning save with authority and 2 K’s)