I’ll be honest, folks: for about seven and a half innings, this was shaping up to be a grumpy recap.
The Orioles entered the bottom of the eighth as a team at its lowest point. They had been held scoreless for 19 consecutive innings, and had scored just one run in their last 27. Their already season-worst losing streak was about to stretch to five. Their nine-game homestand was about to conclude with a 3-6 mark. And they were on the verge of getting swept for the first time in 14 months. It was not great, Bob.
And then, with one glorious rally against one of the nastiest pitchers in the game, the Orioles turned the narrative on its head and emerged with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over the Twins, their 29th comeback win of the season.
I’m feeling a lot less grumpy now.
Let’s kick off the recap with the only exciting inning for the O’s offense, the bottom of the eighth, which the Twins entered with a 1-0 lead. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, unconventionally, turned to closer Jhoan Duran in the eighth, apparently hoping to coax a two-inning save out of him even though Duran had just pitched last night. The decision very much did not work out for him.
Oh, there was no problem with Duran’s velocity today; the flamethrowing right-hander clocked an incredible 17 pitches at 100 mph or faster, which doesn’t even seem physically possible. But the Orioles’ offense, which had been asleep all afternoon, hung in surprisingly well against Duran’s blistering heat. It all started with Adley Rutschman tapping a slow roller down the first-base line. Duran fielded the ball but was just a touch too slow to get it to first base, perhaps not realizing how hard Adley was busting down the line. Rutschman beat it out for an infield single, and the fun began.
Anthony Santander put together an outstanding at-bat. After falling behind 1-2, Santander laid off two pitches, fouled off three others, and finally smoked a single up the middle to advance Rutschman to third. Runners at the corners, one out.
Normally it would’ve been the Orioles’ batting leader, Austin Hays, striding to the plate at that moment. But as fate would have it, he’d been forced to leave the game with a hip contusion after colliding with first baseman Donovan Solano on a second-inning groundout. Instead, it was up to the former Twin Aaron Hicks — currently mired in a 2-for-26 slump — to try to deliver the big hit.
He did it! Hicks worked a 2-2 count and then flared a base hit into center field, plating Rutschman with the tying run. Scoreless drought, over. Orioles’ deficit, erased. With that weight off the shoulders, the only thing left for the Orioles to do was go ahead and win this thing.
They continued to put the pressure on Duran. Cedric Mullins smoked a shot down the first-base line, but a great diving play by Alex Kirilloff turned a potential double into the second out. No matter. After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Jordan Westburg came up in the biggest spot of his major league career.
Westburg came through...in the most painful way possible. On an 0-1 pitch, Duran ran inside on Westburg and drilled him in the left hand with a 101-mph fastball. Ouch! Fortunately, Westburg stayed in the game, and his hand didn’t appear to be broken. And the Orioles had a 2-1 lead on the bases loaded HBP. Quite the turn of events.
The O’s didn’t add on, but they didn’t need to, not with Félix Bautista ready to go. The Orioles’ dominant closer had one of his most overpowering outings, facing three Twins hitters in the ninth and striking out all three of them. Doesn’t get any better than that. Bautista’s K/9 rate is now an unheard-of 18.4. And the Orioles were back in the win column where they belong.
Almost everything before that bottom of the eighth, as mentioned, was frustrating, particularly at the plate. Facing Twins starter Sonny Gray — perhaps the best pitcher in baseball history whose first and last names are antonyms — the Orioles’ bats were just as pitiful as they’d been against fellow Twins starters Pablo López and Bailey Ober in the first two games of the series. Gray barely broke a sweat in mowing down the first eight hitters of the game before Anthony Bemboom snapped his modest perfect game bid with a two-out single in the third. Gunnar Henderson drew a walk to mount a mini-rally, but Gray fanned the slumping Adley Rutschman to keep the O’s off the scoreboard once more.
Even a Ramón Urías leadoff double in the fifth amounted to nothing for the Orioles. They eventually loaded the bases with two outs but Rutschman, again, couldn’t come through in the clutch. He swung at Gray’s first pitch and flied harmlessly to center. That dropped Adley to 6-for-37 in his last 10 games before his pivotal eighth-inning infield single. Gray finished with six scoreless innings, giving Twins starters a 0.47 ERA in this series. Seems good.
Still, kudos to O’s starter Cole Irvin for keeping the game close. He got some major help from Mullins in the first. Irvin was shaky out of the chute, allowing three baserunners in the first on two singles and a walk, and by all rights the Twins should have added a double to that tally. But on Byron Buxton’s deep drive to center field, Mullins raced to the warning track and made a leaping, backhanded, no-look catch while hurtling into the wall.
What a play! With that potential runner off the bases, Irvin ended up escaping the inning with no damage, striking out Ryan Jeffers to strand three runners.
Irvin managed to finish five innings for just the second time this season, with the Twins tallying their only run against him in his final frame. Buxton singled and, with two outs, advanced to second with a wild pitch. Willi Castro then swatted an RBI double off the top of the wall in center for a 1-0 Minnesota lead. Irvin’s outing was about the best you could ask from a fifth starter, and Bryan Baker (two innings) and Cionel Pérez (one inning) retired all nine batters they faced.
Their efforts set up that magical bottom of the eighth. An inning that flipped the script and made things feel a whole lot sunnier in Birdland.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Sunday, July 2?
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Cole Irvin (5 IP, 1 ER)
Bryan Baker (two perfect innings)
Félix Bautista (struck out the side in 9th)
Aaron Hicks (game-tying RBI single in 8th)
Jordan Westburg (go-ahead HBP)