In the dark years of the not too distant past of Birdland, the idea of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson hitting home runs in the same game was the stuff of the happier dreams of Orioles fans. On Saturday night, those dreams were made a reality. Rutschman’s and Henderson’s homers, added to Tyler Wells putting together the best start of his Orioles career, were all that the team needed to beat the Pirates, 2-0.
Prior to the game, manager-for-the-day Fredi González joked that he hoped Wells could pitch a complete game so that he could hand Brandon Hyde a full strength bullpen tomorrow. González was managing in Hyde’s absence as Hyde went to attend his daughter’s graduation from Syracuse.
Wells must have been listening to his substitute skipper, because he sure tried his best to get that complete game. He rolled through the Pirates with very little drama, at one time retiring 19 straight batters.
By the time all was said and done, Wells cleared seven innings, set a new career high for strikeouts with eight, gave up just one hit, and allowed two walks. This included 18 swing-and-misses, which led all MLB pitchers today. Wells entered Saturday’s start with a 0.775 WHIP. This number went down. That’s pretty good. Yennier Cano pitched a scoreless eighth and Félix Bautista closed it out in the ninth. You could have hardly drawn up a better formula.
As has been the case with 24 of the 26 Orioles victories so far this season, it was not exactly an easy road to get the win. Pittsburgh’s starter Roansy Contreras was almost the equal to Wells, pitching a seven-inning outing of his own.
However, almost only counts, as my high school Chemistry teacher Mr. Kosyjana always reminded us when someone asked for partial credit, in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear missiles. A baseball game is none of these things.
Contreras’s two blemishes were the home runs he allowed - to Rutschman in the first inning of the game, and to Henderson in the second. For Rutschman, this was homer number six on the year. Henderson’s was only his fourth. Over Contreras’s seven innings, he allowed just five hits. He only struck out one batter, so his outing did not have the flash of Wells, but still, a lot of nights, that would be enough to win.
If only the Pittsburgh lineup was not mired in the lengthy funk that it is in. The team has not scored more than three runs since April 29. They’re now 1-11 since then. It is good that the Orioles pitchers have, through the first two games of this series, kept that struggling lineup down.
It nearly turned out differently. Wells’s cruise through the game ground to a halt after he’d gotten to two outs in the top of the seventh inning. That’s when he issued his two walks back-to-back, first to Carlos Santana and then to Jack Suwinski. As good as Wells had been, this was nerve-inducing. The go-ahead run was at the plate, after all. It could have all come crashing down. Very nearly, it did.
Pirates designated hitter Miguel Andujar, the former Yankees prospect, was the man to bat. He connected off of Wells’s last pitch of the game at exactly 100 miles per hour, driving a fly ball the opposite way into right field. Off the bat, it looked like it might end up in a very similar location to Henderson’s home run, just to the left of the out-of-town scoreboard.
Right fielder Anthony Santander drifted back towards the fence and made a desperate jump just in front of that scoreboard. The ball settled in to the very tip of his glove and he held on as he landed. You can see this in the photo at the top of this article. The newly-christened Mr. Splash, who as of last night sprays his hose at Section 86 on Orioles extra-base hits, went off script and soaked folks for the great defensive play. Power corrupts.
According to Statcast, in two parks, this would have been a home run. It was almost a disaster. We have already established when almost counts. Wells, at 96 pitches, was done. His ERA lowered, too. It’s now 2.68.
Unlike last night, the Orioles could not pick up any insurance runs, so they were reliant on their late-inning dominant duo to stay dominant. It is a reflection of just how dominant Cano has been up to this point that it was a mild shock when he gave up a one-out double to pinch hitter Tucupita Marcano. The tying run was at the plate, just like that.
Cano is going to give up a run eventually. His ERA won’t stay 0.00 forever. It didn’t happen on Saturday night. The Pirates got two more hard-hit balls above 100mph, but one went on the ground right to Ryan Mountcastle, who flipped to Cano for the out, and the other was a line drive pretty much right at Santander. The inning was over, just like that.
In the ninth, Bautista. Félix comin’, y’all. It’s Mountain Time. When he is at his peak, none can touch him. The foothills of the Mountain are much more approachable. Left fielder Bryan Reynolds led off the inning with a single. Here we go again. Tying run at the plate. 3-4-5 hitters due up. Bautista struck them all out, possibly helped by some slick framing by Rutschman. Pitcher and catcher were both fired up for the now-traditional post-game embrace. Mr. Splash hosed his section down again. I think we can allow that.
With the Rays losing to the Yankees on Saturday afternoon, this win means that the Orioles gained ground in the AL East. They’re now just three games back. Five days ago, they were 6.5 games behind. Now, it feels like striking distance.
The Orioles have the chance for a sweep if they can pick up a victory in Sunday’s 1:35 finale. This could be the toughest one of the series for the O’s, with the top Pirates pitcher, Mitch Keller, set to start. Kyle Gibson will try to join the parade of pitchers shutting down the Pirates offense.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for May 13, 2023?
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Tyler Wells (7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K)
Adley Rutschman (first inning homer)
Gunnar Henderson (second inning homer)
Anthony Santander (game-saving snow cone catch)