Before we even get to what happened on the field on Saturday night, let me vent for a second. Every time Orioles fans get to see the team on a national broadcast, it inevitably entails a slate of overpaid bloviators dealing out backhanded compliments about how amaaaaazing it is that Baltimore is playing well, given their normal state of baseball irrelevance: “Can I say that it is so refreshing to be here [in Camden Yards]? We haven’t been here for a long time.” Yeah, yeah, you are John Smoltz, but can we chill with that stuff?
To any casual fan with a pulse, the Orioles’ sizzling season shouldn’t be news—but then again, tonight wasn’t a game that would convince anybody to jump on the team bandwagon.
For two consecutive starts, Tyler Wells has looked like he’s been running on empty. Sad to say, but tonight was no different: the fastball velo was down around 92 mph, the movement not sharp, lots of things stayed up in the zone. The Orioles clearly saw the same thing: Wells was lifted in the third inning, having thrown just 63 pitches. This guy is a competitor, so to see that, you know he just didn’t have it tonight.
Tyler Wells has been so huge for the Orioles this season, with the sole blemish of being homer-prone. So it sucked but wasn’t eye-popping when Giancarlo Stanton murdered a pitch in the first inning, 116 mph off the bat, into the left-field seats to give the Yankees a quick 1-0 lead.
But the Tyler Wells we saw this year, the Wells of the sub-1 WHIP, wouldn’t issue a random leadoff walk, like he did in the second inning. He momentarily escaped damage thanks to some heads-up defense from catcher Adley Rutschman, who kept a close eye on Harrison Bader, sitting at third base with one out, and fired down the third base line, catching Bader napping. Heyo!
But that couldn’t save Wells’ night. Staked a 2-1 lead by his teammates, Wells allowed a leadoff single in the third inning, then tried to sneak a fastball by Aaron Judge. Sorry, but a belt-high 91 mph fastball is not going to cut it against the 2022 AL MVP.
That something was up with Wells soon became obvious when the cameras cut to Mike Baumann warming up, not a usual sight in the third inning of baseball games. And then, all of a sudden, Brandon Hyde was out of the dugout and Wells was out of the game. We’ve seen so many great things from Wells this year, but I’m concerned that this thing that looks like fatigue could necessitate some time on the IL.
It was still a close 3-2 game when Wells left, and that was thanks to the combined efforts of Ryan Mountcastle, Adam Frazier, and Ramón Urías in the second inning. Brandon Hyde was standing by the O’s dugout with Ken Rosenthal’s mic in his face just as Mountcastle blistered a first-pitch sinker from Clarke Schmidt into the right-field seats to tie the game. “Swing it, Mounty!” said Hyde on the broadcast as the big righty trotted past him into the dugout. The O’s scored one more, with Adam Frazier doubling and scoring on a two-out infield single just legged out by Ramón Urías.
That was the nicest part of the game, because come the fourth inning, the Orioles were down a run, out a starting pitcher, and had 18 outs left to cover. It wasn’t a great situation.
Almost immediately, Mike Baumann allowed a fourth Yankees run to trickle in on two singles and a sac fly. None of those balls was particularly hard, but let’s be honest: Baumann leaves too many pitches over the middle. John Smoltz commented from the booth, “They’re going to have to make some better pitches against a team that’s been struggling to score some runs.” Of course, Smoltz was right.
The two-run hole momentarily shrunk against Schmidt in the fifth inning—Adley walked, Gunnar Henderson doubled the opposite way, and Tony Taters drove Rutschman home with a grounder to bring the Orioles within one.
But it grew right back, all the way to a lopsided 8-3 score by the sixth. Cole Irvin, the third Orioles’ pitcher of the night, came out for his second consecutive inning, and the No. 9 hitter, Kyle Higashigaoka, pummeled a homer over Walltimore. I can report that the pitch was a meatball. Irvin then loaded the bases with singles, and Hyde decided to try his luck with Bryan Baker, against whom opposing hitters are averaging .400 with the bases loaded. More bad news: that number went up tonight. Baker whiffed DJ LeMahieu but Isiah Kiner-Falefa saw 10 pitches, and the tenth was hittable. Like that, three runs were in and Saturday night seemed fated to be stamped with a big fat “L.”
(By the way, if you’re a desperate vulture for bright spots, Baker’s statline will look great to future score-watchers: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K’s. And Cionel Pérez pitched two scoreless, hitless, and walk-less innings, looking better than he has in a long time.)
Some time after Wells departed, MLB beat writer Jake Rill tweeted this out:
Here's what #Orioles GM Mike Elias said yesterday when he was asked about the high innings totals for the team's young starters (including Tyler Wells), most of whom have not pitched this much in a season before: pic.twitter.com/CcNW7H6Faf— Jake Rill (@JakeDRill) July 30, 2023
Good as this team is, they’re looking a little thin these days in the starter/middle relief departments. Mike Elias, are you feeling the heat yet?