If all you knew about tonight’s Orioles-Reds matchup in Great American Ball Park was that one of these teams was surging and the other one was throwing in the towel for the season, you’d be plenty confused about which one was which.
Here in Baltimore, we’ve been spoiled with good pitching all year. Tonight, Dean Kremer and Beau Sulser combined to give us a most unpleasant throwback to the awful pitching staffs of the last five years. Meanwhile, with the trade rumors swirling, Reds’ right-hander Tyler Mahle came out, stumbled badly in the first inning, and then proceeded to silence the Orioles’ offense, retiring thirteen O’s hitters in a row over six innings.
Mahle looked deeply hittable in the first inning, allowing three straight singles, including an RBI single to Anthony Santander, extending his 10-game hit streak. If anyone is playing like they want off their team, it’s Tony Taters, with a .371/.450/.714/1.164 line over his last two weeks. (To be clear, I have exactly no reason to think this is true.) A second O’s run scored in a comical way when Mahle’s back cleat got caught in the dirt during his windup, and he tumbled forward for a run-scoring balk.
With O’s hitters going 5-for-9 to lead off this game, you probably thought, Aha, this Mahle guy is a sitting duck.
Typical trap game. The O’s didn’t have a hit off Mahle after the second, stumped by a fastball that touched 97 mph and a split-finger pitch that soon found its shape, making even Adley Rutschman swing over the top of it. At one point, Mahle and the Reds bullpen retired nineteen in a row. (At least the Orioles didn’t drag this one out.)
Meanwhile, Dean Kremer went in the opposite direction, fading after a strong first inning as Cincy hitters took advantage of seemingly every one of his mistakes.
The Reds scored one run in the second inning on three straight singles off some flat Kremer cutters. Kremer got a momentary bailout when, with one out, Jonathan India hit a fly ball right at Santander, who caught it, cocked his arm back, and let fly a perfect one-hop rocket to the plate for an inning-ending double play.
It wasn’t enough to bail out Kremer, who followed with more middle-of-the-plate stuff in the fourth, meaning more Cincinnati runs. Centerfielder Nick Senzel doubled ahead of a Jake Fraley looper, and not even Austin Hays could throw out the speedy Senzel at the plate. Tie game. A strike away from getting out of the fourth inning, Kremer tried to come in with a fastball to 2021 Rookie of the Year Jonathan India. No such luck: the 2021 Rookie of the Year cracked it into the stands. 4-2 Reds.
In the fifth inning, Kremer served up another flat cutter to Joey Votto, 91 mph right over the middle. You can’t throw that pitch to a six-time All-Star. The ball was gone. After giving up a single to Kyle Farmer for good measure, Kremer got yanked. His final line: 4.1 IP, 10 H, 6 R.
That sixth run, by the way: Beau Sulser came in and immediately looked terrible. Sulser allowed a deep blast to left by Nick Senzel which should have been a double, but instead resulted in one of the strangest putouts you’ve ever seen. The drive hit the left-field wall, but Austin Hays immediately trapped the ball in his glove off the ricochet and fired a rocket to first base. The runner on first, Farmer, thought it had been caught and scrambled back to first while the batter, Senzel, passed him. First baseman Trey Mancini tagged Senzel and the O’s promptly left the field, thinking it was a double play. “This is one in a million!” exclaimed MASN’s Ben McDonald. MLB Gameday had no idea what was going on and froze after reporting the hijinks as a double play. The umps’ tribal council convened, scratching their heads, then concluded that only Farmer was out.
It was too bad, because Hays deserved better for his fantastic effort. And because Sulser immediately allowed a two-run home run.
Then, for an encore, Sulser surrendered a sixth-inning double to India and an RBI single to Brandon Drury. The score was 8-2 Cincinnati, and if you stopped watching here, that would have been entirely understandable.
One nice thing, at least, can be said about Beau Sulser tonight: after his rocky fifth and sixth innings, Sulser retired the last six Reds he faced, giving the team length and saving their top-shelf relievers from having to do garbage-time duty.
Actually, three more nice things happened tonight that are worth mentioning.
One, there was a healthy amount of orange in the ballpark and, as MASN’s Kevin Brown said, it wasn’t for Joe Burrow and the Bengals. After the O’s scored their two first-inning runs, chants of “Let’s go O’s! Let’s go O’s!” started to ring out through the stadium. Even with the team down 8-2 in the ninth, you still heard it.
Second, Terrin Vavra made his MLB debut as a designated hitter. With a GIDP, a slow tapper, and a flyout in three at-bats, it wasn’t a stellar day. But the O’s faithful in Cincinnati welcomed him warmly, anyway, with more “Let’s go O’s!” chants.
Third, Adley Rutschman hit a squib single in the ninth inning, becoming the third rookie catcher in MLB history to reach base twice in a game nine times in a row. It’s a pretty random stat, but as Kevin Brown winningly put it, “It’s 8-2, and that’s all we’ve got!”
As the O’s attempt to rally from this one and continue their postseason charge, let’s all try have a short memory and put this one behind us.