The Orioles entered tonight with a 4-3 record, over half of their games decided by one or two runs. Friday night’s home opener was one such nailbiter, an early 4-0 Orioles advantage dwindling to a narrow 7-6 lead by the ninth inning, the tying run on third before Félix Bautista managed to shut the door.
There are two ways for a baseball team to avoid such stress-inducing drama. Option 1: win big. Option 2 is to pitch like crap, not hit, and lose.
On Saturday night, the Orioles inclined toward Option 2, combining a flat approach at the plate with a not-so-winning-recipe on pitching that’s becoming worryingly familiar despite the newness of the season: shaky work by the starter + big mistakes from the middle relief.
This was Baltimore’s first glimpse of Cole Irvin at home and … it wasn’t thrilling. A tightrope walk the whole time, it took the lefty 101 pitches to get through just 4 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs, but he looked shaky enough that it could have been worse. In the fifth inning, manager Brandon Hyde ceded the game to Austin Voth, and immediately—bam!—a Giancarlo Stanton home run. Voth’s ERA is now 10.38. Honestly, I could do with less of the guy.
Staring at a 4-1 deficit before they were out of the fifth, and facing MLB’s No. 3 bullpen in 2022, the offense couldn’t do much. The Orioles had raced out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but they couldn’t buy a run after that.
It was particularly frustrating because Yankees rookie Jhony Brito is a guy serving typical “young guy” energy: an electric fastball sitting 96-97, sharp breaking stuff, and occasional bad misses and nerves. You had the impression that if Brito were to get into hot water, he could self-destruct quickly.
So when Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman reached consecutively to start the first, Rutschman on a 92-mph grounder off Brito’s leg, it felt like a major opportunity. Brito looked badly shaken, throwing three straight balls to Anthony Santander. But Brito got back in the count before tossing Santander a bad 88-mph sinker right over the middle. Crack!
Well, it sounded like a three-run homer, but it ended up a run-scoring sac fly. This turned out to be a fateful turning point. What could have easily turned into a 3-0 Orioles lead and a quick hook for the Yankees starter ended up as just one measly run and, for Jhony Brito, a solid five innings with just one run allowed. After two consecutive hits to start the game, Baltimore managed just two hits total in innings two through nine. That will certainly put pressure on a starting pitcher and tonight, Cole Irvin wasn’t nearly up to the task.
Look, Irvin seems like a cool guy. He collects baseball cards, knows about Dave McNally, and doesn’t walk a lot of people. And how could you not like a guy who rushes over to cover the bag, tumbles over on his butt fielding the throw, and bursts out in a big laugh?
Cole Irvin is literally built as an athlete. pic.twitter.com/rDP44q2lFu— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) April 8, 2023
But neither pitch efficiency nor control—nor much merriment—were in evidence tonight. Irvin’s control issues weren’t costly through the first three innings. For instance, he let the first two batters reach in the second inning (on a single and a walk) but was rescued by some very uninspired at-bats from the next three Yankees hitters. Kyle Higashigaoka was especially kind, generously ignoring a middle-middle fastball with a 3-0 count and then flying out a changeup.
Irvin actually had some nice moments in the third inning, his best. His big curveball made its first appearance, embarrassing rookie Anthony Volpe before drawing a few confounded swings from the mighty Aaron Judge. Then Irvin burned Judge with 95 up and outside the zone. Where did that come from? Certainly one for the Irvin career highlight reel. Sandwiched between those two K’s was a web gem from outfielder du jour Terrin Vavra, who, playing well out of position, laid out to rob DJ LeMahieu on a sinking liner. “Vavra Cadavra,” said the Orioles Twitter feed, and I agree.
But after that, the wheels fell off. Irvin walked the first two hitters in the fourth inning, then allowed an RBI single to the offensively challenged Aaron Hicks. In the fifth, some more middle-middle pitches produced a leadoff triple, an RBI double, and a sac fly from Aaron Judge (truthfully not the worst thing that could have happened in that situation). Down 3-1 with two outs, Brandon Hyde pulled Irvin for Austin Voth, who immediately served up a home run to Giancarlo Stanton. [Facepalm]
True, Voth did retire the next six Yankees in a row after that… but how about getting your heater game-ready before you face a five-time All-Star who does one thing and only one thing really well: hit the ball hard and far?
The seventh inning saw this game put in the capable hands of lefty Keegan Akin, who entered tonight with a 7.71 ERA. Akin, I’m glad to say, was fine, facing five hitters and allowing no runs and just one hit. Michael Baumann closed things out, although he was shakier than his line suggests: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K. Both Baumann and Akin benefited from some nice defense behind them: Gunnar Henderson flashed the leather in the ninth and before that, Adley nabbed Gleyber Torres trying to steal second, flashing perfect throwing technique. Announcer Ben McDonald called Rutschman a “fundamentalist” behind the plate, and at this point, I was bored enough by this game that I stopped to ponder what he’d meant.
By the ninth inning, things had gotten so dreary that announcer Kevin Brown brought up the fact that the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, were pummeling the Gwinnett Stripers, 21-2. Once upon a time, that would have been enough to satisfy Orioles fans starved for some good news. This season, it’s not enough. We need more from this club than we saw tonight.