I found myself asking during this game, “Who are these Orioles?” Seeing a team that is never out of it, that never gives up, and that just keeps winning is still so very new to me. I don’t know how to react!
But after watching Gunnar Henderson dominate at the plate, the bullpen put up 4.2 scoreless innings, Ryan O’Hearn hit a go-ahead home run off of a lefty, and the Orioles take three out of four against the former first-place Tampa Bay Rays, I have an answer. They are, at the moment at least, the best team in the American League.
The Orioles got on the board against Taj Bradley early, scoring one run in the first inning and two in the second. In the first, 1-2 batters Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman got to work right away. Henderson legged out an infield single and Rutschman followed with a double to deep center field that knocked in the first run of the game.
With a runner in scoring position and no outs, it would have been nice to cash in for another run or two. But Rutschman couldn’t get beyond second base, though Austin Hays did pick up a walk later in the inning.
They were right back at it in the second, however. Number nine hitter, Adam Frazier, hit a two-out double to roll over the lineup and get it back to Gunnar, the hottest guy on the field right now. He took care of business, launching a missile to right-center field. It bounced off the catwalk and fell harmlessly back into the field as the runners circled the bases.
The Statcast numbers are fun: 111.2 mph off the bat, an estimated distance 446 ft, an expected batting average of 1.000, a homer in all 30 parks. That handed an early 3-0 lead to Tyler Wells.
Wells had a very weird start today, and not in a good way. After his disastrous game against the Dodgers last week, he needed to get back on track. He did not. He left the game after just 4.1 innings pitched with three runs allowed. Three runs isn’t a blood bath, but he just looked so lost out there that it made sense to see Brandon Hyde coming out to pull him when he did.
The weirdness comes in the fact that despite giving up three runs and throwing 77 pitches, Wells didn’t surrender a single hit until the fifth inning. In fact, the Rays scored their first run of the game without getting a single hit. But Wells, who doesn’t historically walk a ton of batters, looked completely lost in terms of the strike zone.
He started the first inning with back-to-back 3-0 counts that luckily ended in outs, but it was just the start of a concerning trend. He did hit a batter in that inning, as well as in the second inning. The second HBP was a scary blow to Isaac Paredes that bounced off of his helmet at 91 mph. Thankfully he did not have to come out of the game.
The poor command escalated in the fourth inning. Wells walked Harold Ramirez and Randy Arozarena, then Ramirez moved to third on a fly ball out. The next batter, Brandon Lowe, chopped a ball to the right side. Adam Frazier tried to start a double play but the ball just wasn’t hit to the right spot for that. They got the lead runner but Lowe just beat the throw back to first. The Rays’ first run of the night scored.
In that fourth inning, Mike Baumann began warming up in case Wells needed a quick hook. It was a bit surprising to see it, but as MASN announcer Kevin Brown said in the moment, Brandon Hyde had been managing this series like it was the ALCS. And it makes sense, despite this being only July this is a huge series and a win today would give the Orioles a cushion in their division lead as well as be a huge help in the event of a tiebreaker scenario.
Wells made it through the inning but cameras caught him having a heated conversation with Brandon Hyde between innings. Whatever was said, Wells went back out for the fifth to see if he could get his act together. He could not. He walked Christian Bethancourt to start the fifth and that’s when he gave up his one and only hit. Because he’s Tyler Wells, that hit was a home run. Just like that, we had a tie game.
Wells got one out in the fifth, a fly-out from Wander Franco, and then his night was over. That’s when the Mike Baumann show got started. Big Mike came in and got two quick groundouts to end the inning, and then went on to pitch two more scoreless innings. It was huge in a game when the starter had to leave early to finally get solid middle relief.
Baumann did walk two in his outing, including the first batter of the sixth inning. That was pretty nerve-wracking for those of us who watch the Orioles this year and know how the relief pitching has faltered, but neither walk added up to anything. He didn’t allow a hit and struck out two.
It didn’t take long for the Orioles to untie the game after Wells gave up the game-tying homer. The Rays brought in lefty Colin Poche to face Ryan O’Hearn in the top of the sixth. That would normally be the end of O’Hearn’s day, but Poche is the only lefty in the Ray’s bullpen and it was only the sixth. So O’Hearn stayed in. And hit a home run. An opposite-field home run! How about that? The ball just kept sailing and dinged off of the foul pole to get the Orioles the 4-3 lead.
They added another run in the seventh, this one unearned. Colton Cowser, who had smoked two balls earlier in the game with nothing to show for it, hit a chopper to third base that Paredes couldn’t handle. He moved to second on a one-out walk by Henderson. Rutschman did a good job working the count in his at-bat, but ultimately couldn’t bring Cowser in.
That brought it down to Anthony Santander, who has been mired in a bit of a mini-slump. He didn’t slump in this AB, though, and dropped a single into right field. Cowser scored and the fifth and final run of the game came in to score, making it 5-3.
If you thought that Hyde would avoid using Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista today, you forgot that he was managing this series like the playoffs. Cano came in for the 8th and, despite looking to me like he was tired before he even threw a pitch, looked quite good out there. He got through the inning 1-2-3 with a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout. Good variety!
It was Bautista for the ninth and things weren’t quite as smooth for him, though he did look good overall. Jorge Mateo missed grabbing a grounder up the middle that went for a one-out single, and Yandy Díaz slapped a single through the right side with two outs. But Bautista went vintage for the last out, striking out Wander Franco to end the game.
What a win. What a series. The Orioles are now two games up on Tampa Bay in the AL East and will head up the coast for a three-game series in Philadelphia starting tomorrow. Let’s hope the offense can score 10 runs a game up there so Cano and Bautista can get some rest.
Who is the Most Birdland Player for Sunday, July 23rd?
This poll is closed
GUNNAR Henderson (2-for-4, BB, big homer)
Ryan O’Hearn (2-for-4, go-ahead homer off a lefty)
Big Mike Baumann (2.1 scoreless innings in relief)