62 percent of the time, the Orioles win every time. It’s not always pretty. The journey isn’t always fun for fans who are on the edge for every pitch. The results through 100 games - just about 62 percent of the season - are what they are even so. The O’s have won 62 games, more than any other American League team. They have a 2.5 game lead in the AL East. Their latest win on Monday night was a white-knuckler against the Phillies where the O’s came out on top, 3-2. This is Birdland.
In flagrant defiance of the rule established in The Sound of Music, let’s start with the end, because holy mackerel was the bottom of the ninth inning a nailbiter. Important context for everything that follows after: Neither Yennier Cano nor Félix Bautista were available to pitch in the game, with each having pitched the previous two days. The Orioles don’t use those guys back-to-back-to-back.
It was, therefore, Cionel Pérez who ended up being handed a one-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth. As we like to say around these parts, hold on to your butts. But actually, Pérez was so close to cruising through the inning, retiring his first two batters on four pitches with contact that never seemed threatening. Pinch hitter Alec Bohm made him work a bit before ripping a line drive within reach of Jorge Mateo.
Had Mateo caught this ball, game over. It was a hard shot, one that Statcast gave an expected batting average of .730, so maybe it’s unfair to be annoyed at Mateo for bricking the ball off of his glove. But if you’re going to be OPSing .605, you better actually do good stuff with the glove, and Mateo isn’t. The tying run was on base, and after Pérez walked pinch hitter (and righty) J.T. Realmuto, so was the go-ahead run for the Phillies. With Philadelphia calling for aid, would Johan (Rojas, the center fielder) answer? No! He hit an easy grounder to Mateo and Mateo didn’t miss this one. Game over.
The Orioles had this 3-2 lead to protect in the bottom of the ninth thanks to rookies delivering a tiebreaking run in the top half of the inning. Gunnar Henderson watched four pitches outside the strike zone, and though this never guarantees the day’s home plate umpire will correctly award him a walk, on this occasion it did. Henderson’s one-out walk was almost like a double when a wild pitch by pterodactyl aficionado Craig Kimbrel threw a wild pitch. Pinch hitter Ryan O’Hearn couldn’t get Henderson in, though he did move him over.
Now batting for the Orioles, number 17, Colton Cowser. The rookie was not even in the starting lineup in this game. He was only pressed into service when Aaron Hicks exited the game with what the team called a left hamstring cramp, which Hicks suffered while diving for a catch he was awarded but did not actually make. (More on that later.) Cowser excited plenty of fans with his Triple-A stats so far and has already drawn the ire of a weirdly impatient subset of fans. It cannot be disputed that the results have not been there so far. Cowser against Kimbrel? Yikes.
Kimbrel aimed low and away and Cowser flicked out his bat, poking a line drive that sliced towards the left field corner. Philly’s left fielder Kyle Schwarber valiantly dove for the ball, only to have it deflect off the edge of his glove. Orioles fans know the pain of what happens when you put non-outfielders in the outfield. Put that down in the scorebook as a double for Cowser, his first big-league extra-base hit, and the game-winning RBI. That’s the good stuff.
What was a 2-2 tie heading into the ninth only had to be broken in the first place because Danny Coulombe and Bryan Baker joined forces to stink up the joint. The Orioles are fortunate it wasn’t worse. This despite the gift of starting pitcher Dean Kremer going seven innings. Still, the bullpen blew it in the eighth. Coulombe allowed a leadoff hit to Rojas, the #9 batter, then walked Schwarber after the lineup turned over.
The bacon was briefly saved as the next Phillies batter, Edmundo Sosa, hit a laser directly at Ramón Urías, who flashed give-him-another-Gold-Glove leather in snagging the liner and tossing it to second base for a double play that was confirmed on review. Given the lefty-lefty matchup against Bryce Harper for the third out, Coulombe couldn’t get him. Harper hit a hard liner that fell in to center field. Out with Coulombe, in with Baker.
The thing about Baker is that he’s really been terrible with inherited runners this season. I’m talking allowing 13 runners to score out of 28. The league-wide average is that 32% score - and obviously quality relievers do much better. Baker ain’t. He worked an 0-2 count against Nick Castellanos then, just like he did a week ago against the Dodgers, wasted it, ending up with a full count pitch that Castellanos hit (thankfully not a drive deep into left field, like the meme) on a line in front of Cowser in center field.
The tying run scored easily and Harper, armed perhaps with more exuberance than sense, barreled around third towards home. Cowser hit the cutoff man Mateo, whose relay throw home to James McCann was actually kind of bad, but McCann swept his glove across home plate and caught Harper in the arm, ending the inning in dramatic fashion with the O’s lucky to not be behind.
Because baseball’s scoring rules are at times arbitrary and unfair, Baker vultured the win that he cost Kremer. The O’s starter exited the game with a 2-1 lead courtesy of Ryan Mountcastle absolutely obliterating a pitch by Phillies starter Cristopher Sánchez, a 451 foot tank high up into the bushes beyond center field in Philadelphia. This, Mountcastle’s first homer since May 24, was his 12th of the year.
As for Baker, he now has allowed 14 of 30 inherited runners to score and is only spared 50% by McCann’s lunge. Kremer, it must be said, was pretty darn good in this game, win or not. It wasn’t a dominating double-digit strikeouts kind of night, but he rolled through seven innings with only three hits and two walks allowed that could have been shutout innings if not for the peculiar ongoing phenomenon of periodic replay decisions that do not match the video evidence that favors the Orioles.
Let’s unpack that: Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Jake Cave hit a line drive to Anthony Santander in right field that Santander appeared to catch in his glove just before it bounced in front of him. The umpire saw this differently and called it a trap. The Orioles quickly viewed the replay and challenged. It was one of those replays that lacked a single, absolutely decisive angle to disprove that the ball touched the grass, though it also lacked any angle proving that the ball did touch anything other than Santander’s glove.
The rules privilege the field umpire’s call, so there we go. One might even argue this was a make-up call for the third inning play where Hicks was injured, as he dove for a Rojas line drive, caught it initially, but had it slip out of his glove as he rolled over. No umpire saw this live and it seemed only MASN cameras noticed the ball escape, as the Phillies did not challenge the outcome. Only my own death or the Orioles winning the World Series will alter my stance that the Jeffrey Maier play means the Orioles are owed every bit of umpiring largesse possible.
Anyway, so Cave reached base, because as the intervening years since 1996 have taught us, karma isn’t real in baseball. The catcher, Garrett Stubbs, tried to bunt Cave to second, but the bunt was bad. Cave slid into second base with a high spike that caught Mateo in the ankle or calf area. This did not stop Mateo from getting the forceout, and he probably had no chance at making the relay, but sheesh. It looked like Mateo might come out of the game, but he was able to tough it out. No points to Cave for the slide.
However, Stubbs did score, moving to second on a wild pitch and third on a Rojas single before a Schwarber sacrifice fly brought him home. This fifth inning business was the only run allowed by Kremer. That’s a good night. His ERA is down to 4.59 for the season. It tied the game at 1-1.
The Orioles enjoyed an early 1-0 lead. Fellow Orioles rookie Jordan Westburg took Sánchez the other way and had enough strength to muscle it over the right field fence, what some segment of people whose hipness I can’t vouch for like to call oppo taco. Sánchez, who held the O’s to four hits in his own seven inning effort, while striking out eight batters, was also a hard-luck no-decision. Despite a 2.98 ERA in eight starts, he has an 0-3 record.
A win is a win is a win. As with a number of their 62 victories up to this point, the Orioles won even with weaknesses to their roster on full display. The talent they’ve shown in overcoming those challenges, like Coulombe and Baker’s mess tonight, or even the offense only getting five hits all game, is remarkable.
This is the greatest team in the American League, a fact that is only going to be disputed by those unwilling to admit that their preseason conception of this team was dead wrong. Hopefully the Orioles can keep sticking it to the haters. We’re all going to have to find ways to get used to experiencing this close game tension after forgetting in the tanking years.
With a win in the opening game of this series, the Orioles have guaranteed they will not be swept for the 72nd straight series. As has been tracked over the last couple of weeks by stats queen Sarah Langs, the O’s are now tied for the modern (post-integration) MLB record, last achieved by Atlanta across the 2003-05 seasons. This is a much more fun kind of history to set than what we saw over many of the previous five years.
The series continues at 6:40 on Tuesday night. The Orioles will look for a third straight win behind Kyle Gibson, who received his NL championship ring for his time with the Phillies before Monday’s game. Pitching for Philly is Taijuan Walker.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for July 24, 2023?
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Dean Kremer (7 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 3 K)
Colton Cowser (game-winning double when he wasn’t even supposed to play)
James McCann (tag after errant throw saved the game)
Ryan Mountcastle (first home run since May 24)