This felt like an old-school ballgame, quick, efficient, and tightly pitched. On the field, we got much what we’d read about on paper: two starters who’ve been effective at limiting runs, except for those of the leaving-the-yard variety. Yusei Kikuchi and Tyler Wells allowed just two runs apiece, but home runs counted for three-fourths of those runs.
Both starters performed well, but Wells gave his team more length, and it mattered a ton: the Orioles scored two runs off a flame-throwing Toronto bullpen while an A-team relief tandem of Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista was able to get seven outs and clinch the series for Baltimore.
At the start of this game, it looked like Wells might dominate and Kikuchi might get crushed. Wells mowed a path through Toronto in the first inning on just nine pitches, eight for strikes, while Kikuchi allowed a tough-luck run and looked close to a meltdown. The Orioles didn’t exactly dominate Kikuchi that inning so much as annoy him. Visibly fuming at some of the calls he wasn’t getting from home plate ump Carlos Torres, Kikuchi narrowly walked Anthony Santander with two outs. Some jawing came from the Blue Jays bullpen, and Torres removed his mask as a warning. To Kikuchi’s fury, Gunnar Henderson, the lone lefty in the lineup today, took a few close pitches that went the rookie’s way, and then, with a 3-2 count, cued a ball the opposite way. Santander, who’d taken second on a pitch in the dirt, came around to score. Guess it was the right call to keep Henderson in the lineup!
But after that sequence, Kikuchi flipped the script, denying the Birds the big hit while he and Wells traded zeroes. The Toronto left-hander retired Austin Hays in the second inning with two outs and Jorge Mateo on third, the speedster having stolen two bags in the inning. Kikuchi stranded Adley Rutschman and Santander after they led off the third inning with back-to-back singles. And he held Jorge Mateo in check after the shortstop singled again to lead off the fourth. Someone has told Kikuchi to throw his curveball more. And often it would get him out of trouble, like in the third, when, he retired Henderson, Ramón Urías and James McCann consecutively on breaking pitches.
All in all, Kikuchi looked better than you’d hoped for, but he did prove fallible in a manner consistent with his scouting report (homer-prone, struggles with length). Kikuchi had been efficient through four, having thrown just 79 pitches. But come the fifth, Adley Rutschman drilled a two-strike inside fastball 394 feet up and over the Wall to tie the game at two.
The Orioles forced Kikuchi to throw 15 pitches that inning, and when Ramón Urías reached on a two-out fielding error, that was it for the left-hander, out after 4 2/3. Out of his last fourteen starts, Kikuchi has failed to complete five innings in ten of them, and the same held true today.
It wasn’t a bad outing, but the big difference between Kikuchi and Wells, again, was length. Whereas Toronto had to use four relievers, the Orioles could rely on just two, their two best, for that matter.
With how well Kikuchi was pitching, the game didn’t ever really feel secure for Baltimore, and definitely not when Wells surrendered a game-tying home run in the third inning to the .197-hitting right-handed catcher Danny Jansen. Or again, to Jansen of all people, in the fifth inning, to put Toronto up 2-1. “Yeah, go figure,” said former Orioles pitcher and commentator Dave Johnson. It was unfortunate to be owned by a backup catcher hitting below the Mendoza line (and Ryan McKenna had to make a slick over-the-head catch to get Wells out of the fifth inning, too).
But if the blasts are going to continue to be just solo ones, then Wells is going to continue to be effective. He skated through the sixth and got two outs in the seventh on just four pitches. Brandon Hyde pulled him just before Jansen stepped into the box again, but at 90 pitches, you felt like Wells could have gone more if he’d had to. All in all, this was yet another convincing performance from the big righty: 6 2/3 innings, two runs, 5 hits (two of them the home runs), one walk, 8 K’s.
With both starters out and the game tied, 2-2, that left the Orioles to scratch out a run or two against Toronto’s fireballing bullpen. The Birds were up to the task. Against right-hander Yimi García’s 97-99 mph with run, the Orioles strung together three consecutive two-out hits: Austin Hays drove a single up the middle, Adley slapped a changeup into the outfield, and Anthony Santander smashed a fastball just past the infield into right, scoring Hays. This was a 3-2 game.
Yennier Cano didn’t have a great day, allowing a two-out hit and a walk in the seventh inning in relief of Wells. But Cano’s bad days are other relievers’ good days. He was able to get a necessary flyout to end the seventh, and after allowing more traffic in the eighth, he got the dangerous Whit Merrifield staring at a slider, painted at the bottom of the zone.
That was the second out in the eighth, and with two on and a one-run lead, Hyde asked Félix Bautista for a four-out save. Toronto’s Matt Chapman fouled off three 100-mph fastballs off The Mountain, but out came the splitter, and down went Chapman. The stadium went nuts.
They’d go nuts two more times today: once when Austin Hays made this a 4-2 game with a “furious blast of insurance” off Toronto’s Erik Swanson, 439 feet away and into the bullpen.
And once more, for the last time, when Bautista locked up a victory in the ninth. First, Bautista blew away Kiermaier with 100 in and around the hands. “Oh my goodness,” went Kevin Brown. Sure-thing Silver Slugger Danny Jansen flew out deep to center. The stadium rose to its feet as Cavan Biggio stepped into the box. Biggio nearly made it 4-3, a foul ball missing the pole by inches. “Foul ball, foul ball,” chanted the stadium as the crew chiefs gathered to review the call on the field. But the call stood, and the outcome wasn’t really in doubt, anyway, Biggio bouncing out to give Bautista his 18th save and the Orioles a game and series win.
“Boy, this place, this city, they are buzzing right now,” said Kevin Brown. “Things are happening in Baltimore, Maryland.” They sure are. The Orioles are 43-25, and currently have a 5-1 season record against Toronto in 2023. They’re off to the Windy City tomorrow. Can the good times keep rolling? Is it crazy to think that . . . they can?
Who was the Most Birdland Player on Thursday, June 15?
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Tyler Wells (6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K)
Austin Hays (2-for-5, HR, 2 R, RBI)
Adley Rutschman (3-for-5, HR, RBI)
Anthony Santander (2-for-3, two-out go-ahead single in sixth)
Félix Bautista (4-out save, 2 K)