The last time the Orioles saw Toronto’s Chris Bassitt, on June 13, 2023, it was a good old-fashioned spanking: the Birds scored eight runs off of him in just three innings, with home runs raining down on Camden Yards. Renowned power hitter Adam Frazier took Bassitt deep, Ryan O’Hearn did, too, and then Gunnar Henderson unleashed Ragnarök, driving in four runs with one grand swing.
That was then. Tonight, far fewer fireworks against Bassitt and far more suspense the whole way through. The Orioles scored four runs off the Toronto right hander in the first three innings, but the bats cooled off, and they had to depend on clutch defense and just enough relief pitching. In the end, Kyle Gibson gave his team six innings, Danny Coulombe pitched a stressful but scoreless seventh, Yennier Canó coughed up a home run, and Félix Bautista got the final five outs in a fraught, but clutch, effort to seal up the win.
The Orioles couldn’t have won this one without getting to Bassitt early. With two outs in the first inning, they rolled up their sleeves and got a rally started. Anthony Santander walked ahead of Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn, as he has all year, showed great bat speed in chopping a fastball the opposite way. Santander gutsily took third on the hit, just eluding the left fielder’s throw with a nice swim move. A wild pitch allowed O’Hearn to advance a base.
That would put runners on second and third with two outs for notorious Blue Jay Killer Ryan Mountcastle. Some things never change. Mounty chopped a high cutter the other way, driving in two. “That’s the way to get the party started!” exclaimed Ben McDonald from the booth. More runs could have been had in the second inning, but Jorge Mateo hit a one-out single and then got greedy, getting rung up trying to steal third.
But the third inning rolled around, and the top of the order got to Bassitt again. Gunnar Henderson turned ferociously on a hanging breaking ball and dumped it into the stands for his 17th home run of the year. It was 3-0 Orioles, amid a huge collective groan issued from Rogers Centre. Anthony Santander flicked a double the other way, tagged on an O’Hearn sharp flyout, and Mountcastle got away with doing less this time, driving in the fourth run with a sac fly.
The game didn’t feel suspenseful to this point, but the bats cooled down quickly, an O’Hearn single in the fifth the only hit Bassitt allowed in the fourth, fifth or sixth innings. Four runs against the Blue Jays was starting to look a little skimpy, and they started to close the gap.
Well, Kyle Gibson didn’t give them much to hit, in fairness. It was a vintage Kyle Gibson performance: not super pretty, but highly effective. Throughout the night, Gibson pitched to contact, and throughout the night, his defense delivered.
In the first inning, with two on and two out, he got a big ranging stop from shortstop Jorge Mateo, out there covering more ground than…say it with me… kudzu.
In the second, Colton Cowser reeled in a deep fly in center and Gunnar Henderson sucked up a ground ball with a flashy spin-and-throw. More of that in the third: Mateo made yet another nice play, and Santander quickly cut off a Bo Bichette drive to the right-field corner and fired into second. The throw appeared to catch Bichette off-guard: he rounded first, pulled up short, and appeared to tweak his knee, having to leave the game.
The Blue Jays’ lone run off Gibson came in the fifth. Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk hit consecutive singles off two pitches left up in the zone, and Kevin Kiermaier drove home Varsho with a one-out fielder’s choice, his speed thwarting a potential inning-ending double play. But Henderson gobbled up another rocket (expected average: .410), ending the rally.
Gibson’s sixth inning was also pretty effortless, again with Gunnar Henderson working overtime. All in all, Toronto hit ten balls Henderson’s way tonight, including a pop foul. Maybe not quite as spectacular as another Orioles third baseman of yore, but I couldn’t help thinking that Gunnar “The Hoover” Henderson would kind of work.
Again, it wasn’t always pretty, but Gibson threw six innings, allowing just one Toronto run on four hits, and he struck out five. A huge quality start in a big spot.
Speaking of “not always pretty,” Gibson ceded the mound after walking the leadoff man in the seventh, and there were still nine outs to get. If you like suspense, you’d have loved the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. If you don’t like suspense, they were utterly unwatchable.
With a man already on, a command-stricken Danny Coulombe walked the first guy he faced on four pitches to draw an urgent visit from pitching coach Chris Holt. It seemed to help, a little: Alejandro Kirk popped out and Jordan Luplow struck out swinging. But the little lefty missed over Kiermaier’s head, twice, to go to 3-1. It was only by summoning two gorgeous consecutive breaking balls on the corner that he got out of the inning. Gutsy.
Worse, Yennier Cano continues to look vulnerable, allowing a Whit Merrifield home run off his slider to bring the Blue Jays within two runs in the eighth. Cano got one out, but then issued back-to-back walks and could get no further. A disappointed-looking Brandon Hyde pulled him. That meant that, with one out in the eighth, it was Mountain Time.
Félix Bautista rescued his team in the eighth, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, either. He froze Matt Chapman with a little thievery from Adley Rutschman, strike 3 at least a ball off the plate. Two pitches later, Daulton Varsho flew out. Danger: avoided.
Did Big Félix have three more outs in him? Well… forget you saw the final score for a second. It was by no means a foregone conclusion.
Bautista walked the leadoff man in the ninth. He went to 2-1 against Danny Jansen, the fastball high and wild, but he dug deep for a beautiful swinging strike three. “This is good old fashioned country hardball, my best against your best,” went Ben McDonald. But he couldn’t ring up Kevin Kiermaier, throwing seven pitches before eventually walking him. Walk, strikeout, walk. Then, with two strikes, Whit Merrifield choked up on the bat, and frankly, he beat Bautista, lining a ball into the left-center gap—well, it would have fallen into the left-center except that Austin Hays closed like 150 feet of space, laying out to rob Merrifield and save his closer and his team’s bacon.
One of the catches of the year, no doubt about it. And a pivotal play: if Hays doesn’t reel that ball in, this is a 4-3 game with runners on first and third and one out.
An utterly exhausted Bautista was at 34 pitches—“He has emptied the tank tonight” said the booth—and he reached back for one more splitter. Santiago Espinal swung through it, Adley fielded it off the ground, fired to first, and finally, there were 27 outs.
The O’s are 6-1 versus Toronto this season. A win is a win is a win, but I need a cigarette. See you all back on the diamond tomorrow!
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Kyle Gibson, 6.0 IP, 4 H, R, 2 BB, 5 K
Ryan Mountcastle, 2B, sac fly, 3 RBIs
Gunnar "The Hoover" Henderson, 17th HR, busy all night at 3B
Félix Bautista, shaky but clutch, 1.2 IP, 2 BB, 3 K, 35 P
Austin Hays, game-saving catch in the ninth