Baseball is a cruel, cruel sport.
Imagine pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into a game for three hours, scraping and clawing and fighting to eke out a lead against one of the top pitchers in the major leagues, overcoming every potential pitfall to come ever so close to an exhilarating victory in a hostile environment.
And then — boom. At the last possible second, a noted Guy Who Hits Mammoth Dingers comes up and is like, “I think I’ll hit a mammoth dinger!” And with one simple flick of his bat, everything you’ve worked so hard for has instantly vanished, leaving behind nothing but dashed dreams and a hundred what-ifs.
What a bummer.
No matter how good a team you are, sometimes all the other guys need is Aaron Judge. The reigning AL MVP’s game-tying homer off Félix Bautista in the bottom of the ninth sent the game to extras, where rookie Anthony Volpe walked it off with a 10th-inning sacrifice fly, snapping the Orioles’ three-game winning streak.
If you’d told me ahead of time that the O’s would lose this game, I wouldn’t have been surprised, but I would’ve expected it to happen very differently. I’d have thought they’d be shut down by five-time All-Star Gerrit Cole, who entered the game with a tidy 2.01 ERA, third-best in the majors. Yet the Orioles had his number tonight. Only once in 10 starts this year had Cole given up more than two runs. Until the Orioles came along! (triumphant laugh)
Cole’s night started breezily enough, with his first five pitches resulting in two lazy flyouts, before the O’s struck. Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle, two guys not known for being walk machines, each patiently worked free passes. Adam Frazier then came through with the big hit, roping a shot to deep right beyond the reach of Aaron Judge’s ample wingspan, a double that brought home both runners. The Birds’ two-out rally gave them a quick 2-0 lead.
Another thing Cole had barely done this season was give up home runs, allowing just four in his first 62.2 innings. Until the Orioles came along! (triumphant laughter continues) The Birds added two dingers to Cole’s meager tally, first with Cedric Mullins driving one into the right-field seats to lead off the third, then with Gunnar Henderson tagging a much-needed roundtripper 404 feet to center field in the fourth.
And just like that, the Orioles had a 4-0 lead on one of the best pitchers in baseball, in his home ballpark, where he’d given up only five runs all season. This Orioles’ offense is something, man. They’ve taken on the likes of Cole, Max Fried, and Shohei-Ohtani-The-Pitcher and handed them some of their worst outings of the year.
Unfortunately, Kyle Bradish couldn’t take advantage of his teammates’ largesse. The Orioles starter was battling his command all night, and while he kept his head above water for a while, it all came crashing down in his final inning. Bradish worked past rallies in the first, second, and third, but the Yankees got to him for their first run in the fourth on a Harrison Bader leadoff homer, then smacked the ball all over the field in the fifth.
Singles by Oswaldo Cabrera and Gleyber Torres began the inning, bringing up Judge as the possible tying run. As it turned out, Judge would be the least of Bradish’s problems that inning. He retired him on a soft fly to left, but was ambushed by the next three hitters — an Anthony Rizzo RBI double, DJ LeMahieu run-scoring single, and Bader game-tying sac fly — barely before Brandon Hyde had time to get the bullpen warm. The once 4-0 O’s lead had completely evaporated. Bradish did manage to get the final out of the inning, but didn’t return for the sixth.
Fortunately, the O’s had one last rally against Cole in store. They opened the sixth inning with singles by Mountcastle and Frazier, ending Cole’s night after 99 pitches. His five innings of work matched his lowest total of the season. Right-hander Ron Marinaccio tried to wriggle the Yankees out of the jam, fanning Austin Hays for the first out, but a Henderson infield single and Terrin Vavra run-scoring groundout gave the Orioles the lead again, 5-4.
The O’s re-loaded the bases later that inning for Mullins, who crushed a fly ball to deep right, but it fell just short, caught by Judge in front of the warning track. Ugh. A Mullins grand slam at that moment would’ve been epic, and would’ve given the Orioles a much more comfortable lead. Oh well, maybe it won’t end up mattering!
NARRATOR: It would end up mattering.
The Orioles clung to that one-run lead for as long as possible. Mychal Givens, in his second appearance of the year, mowed through a perfect sixth inning, and Hyde — smelling a victory — was aggressive with a fairly well-rested Yennier Cano, summoning him in the seventh for a two-inning appearance.
Cano, uncharacteristically, ran into trouble in the seventh, when singles by Torres and Rizzo put runners at the corners with just one out. The Yankees, though, then had a complete strategical meltdown. The cleanup hitter LeMahieu inexplicably tried to bunt, not just once but twice, and the one he put into play was so awful that it bounced directly to Cano, who easily tossed to the plate to retire Torres. What was that, Yankees? I know Cano has been dominant, but you gotta take your chances swinging the bat instead of bunting yourself out of a rally. The Yanks didn’t score that inning, bringing lustful boos from the crowd of 40,652.
Cano stayed in for the eighth and worked past a Bader two-out double for another scoreless frame. It was his third appearance this season of two scoreless innings. It probably means he’s unavailable tomorrow, but as long as the Orioles win this game, it would be worth it.
NARRATOR: It would not be worth it.
The fateful inning arrived as the hulking closer Bautista took the mound in the bottom of the ninth and quickly struck out Torres, bringing up Judge. If you’ll recall, Bautista faced Judge as the potential tying run in the Orioles’ home opener April 7, and walked him on four pitches. In hindsight, he probably should’ve done the same here.
Félix did get ahead of Judge 0-2 in the count, leaving him several possibilities of where to put the next pitch. Maybe bury a splitter. Or throw a shoulder-high fastball. Whatever you do, just don’t throw an 87-mph nothingburger smack dab in the middle of the plate...aaaaaand he did exactly that. And Judge pounced on the hanging splitter and did exactly what you’d expect him to do. A 403-foot drive into the left-field seats later, the game was tied at five. Aaron Judge is real good, but also, what an awful pitch.
The Orioles, playing their third straight extra-inning game, went down quietly against Michael King in the top of the 10th, setting up a Yankees walkoff against Bryan Baker. It didn’t take long. Bader’s groundout to third advanced the free runner, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to third base. The O’s intentionally walked Willie Calhoun to bring up Volpe, who golfed Baker’s first pitch to deep center. Mullins made the catch, but it didn’t matter; it was more than deep enough for Kiner-Falefa to tag and score. And that’s your ballgame.
Like I said. A cruel sport sometimes.