One night after romping to a blowout win on the strength of a 20-hit offensive attack, the Orioles pulled out a very different kind of victory in Minnesota tonight.
Good teams are able to win games in a lot of different ways. Turns out the Orioles are a pretty good team. Did you know?
Tonight’s affair was a hard-fought, bare-knuckle battle against the AL Central-leading Twins, one in which the O’s had to scrape and claw for every run, ultimately defeating flamethrowing closer Jhoan Duran for the second time in six days. Pitching and defense led the way, buoyed by Cole Irvin’s best start of the year and Cedric Mullins’s outstanding, game-changing home run robbery in the fourth.
It took a while for things to get good tonight. If you were wondering whether the Orioles’ offensive eruption in Yankee Stadium on Thursday would carry over against Twins starter Bailey Ober, who worked seven scoreless innings against them last Saturday, the answer was a resounding no. Ober utterly befuddled the O’s again tonight. You might say he Ober-powered them.
An Anthony Santander first-inning walk amounted to nothing when, on a busted hit-and-run, Ryan O’Hearn struck out and Santander was thrown out at second. Ober struck out two in a scoreless second, then escaped jams in the third and fourth innings. In both cases, the O’s put two runners on base with two outs. And in both cases, the next batter swung at the first pitch and was easily retired. What’s with all the first-pitch swinging, guys? You can’t give us two seconds to bask in these rallies before they inevitably get foiled?
On the bright side, at least, Orioles starter Cole Irvin matched Ober pitch for pitch with a fine outing of his own. Irvin’s first three innings were like nothing O’s fans have seen from him before, which is a good thing. He was mixing his pitches superbly, pounding the strike zone, and flashing pinpoint command. He retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out three.
Irvin found himself in trouble in the fourth, though, and only an otherworldly play by his center fielder bailed him out of major damage. After the Twins led off the inning with two straight singles, Byron Buxton blasted a fly ball to deep center field that looked like a sure home run. But Cedric Mullins had other ideas, racing back to the warning track, timing his leap perfectly, and making an incredible, outstretched catch over the wall to rob a dinger. Wow!!! Play of the year? Play of the year.
A gobsmacked Buxton slammed his helmet in frustration, then gave Mullins a bemused smile, as if to ask, “How???” Mullins returned a smile and a shrug from center field. Irvin finished the inning with a strikeout and a grounder, stranding both runners and keeping the game scoreless. Ober and Irvin traded perfect innings in the fifth to keep the game zipping along. It took just one hour and 15 minutes to complete five full innings.
Finally, in the sixth, the Orioles were able to Ober-come their struggles with the Twins starter, scratching across the first run. Anthony Santander led off by lacing a double down the right-field line, and O’Hearn flared an 0-2 fastball the opposite way for a single, moving the runner to third. Mullins followed with a POFO (Productive Out for an Oriole), a sac fly to right that allowed Santander to trot home. Ober exited after six frames, giving up one run, four hits, and three walks. It was a strong outing, if not Ober-whelming. (OK, I’ll stop.)
Handed his first lead, Irvin delivered a shutdown sixth inning, retiring the side in order, but began to falter in the seventh, the deepest he’s worked into a game for the Orioles. He fell behind Buxton 3-1 before getting him to fly out, then started with three balls in a row to Kyle Farmer, who lashed a double to the gap.
Brandon Hyde decided not to press his luck with Irvin, who was at 84 pitches and starting to lose command. Unfortunately, that meant turning things over to an O’s middle relief crew that has been notoriously unreliable this season. And sure enough, it took only one batter for Mike Baumann to blow the lead, on a Willi Castro RBI single. Sigh. Irvin’s fine effort would go unrewarded with a win. Baumann retired only one of the three batters he faced before ex-Twin Danny Coulombe bailed him out, inducing a grounder to strand two.
Yennier Cano tossed a scoreless eighth inning against the team that traded him last year, sending the 1-1 tie into the ninth. With two outs in the top half against Twins closer Jhoan Duran, Colton Cowser tapped a weak grounder down the first-base line. Duran fielded and tossed to first, but his throw nailed Cowser in the back.
Home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski, though, called Cowser out for interference, ruling that he was outside the “runner’s lane” when he ran to first. Cowser seemed to be running directly on top of the chalk base line, which seems to me like it should be perfectly legal, but the play is not reviewable. Had the Orioles lost this game, perhaps I would make a bigger deal out of that play, but instead it gets a passing mention.
Hyde turned to Félix Bautista for the ninth, proving that it is, in fact, possible to use your closer in a tie game on the road. Bautista’s control was a bit off, and he issued a two-out walk to Castro, but catcher James McCann came up huge, throwing out the runner trying to steal second.
In the top of the 10th, the O’s finally broke the deadlock. Ramón Urías, who’d been 0-for-3 to that point, jumped on Duran’s first pitch and roped a double to right-center, plating the automatic runner, Cowser. Good time for your first hit, Ramón! The O’s manufactured another run when McCann bunted Urías to third and pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks plated him with a sac fly. The O’s again got the better of Duran, normally an excellent pitcher, after previously beating him on Sunday in Baltimore with a two-run rally.
Not taking any chances with a 3-1 lead, Hyde stuck with Bautista for the 10th after his 18-pitch ninth inning. Félix had an easier time of it in his second inning of work, setting down all three batters he faced — the final two on strikeouts — to seal an impressive Orioles win.
The O’s pulled within three games of the Rays, who suffered their fifth straight defeat, for first place in the AL East, and are just one back in the loss column.
Like I said. Pretty good team.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Friday, July 7?
This poll is closed
Cole Irvin: 6.1 IP, 1 ER, best start as an Oriole
Félix Bautista: two scoreless innings for the win
Cedric Mullins: amazing HR-robbing catch, sac fly
Ramón Urías: go-ahead RBI double in 10th