In the classic fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” a plodding reptile beats the swift-footed bunny in a footrace, despite not bringing his best command to the ballpark that day. Er, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
On Sunday, Minnesota’s Joe Ryan blew the O’s away, racking up ten strikeouts in just 4 1/3 innings. But for all his brilliance and stuff, he tired suddenly, giving up a two-run homer in the fifth and leaving with the score 3-1 and two aboard.
Then, mayhem: Baltimore unleashed Armageddon on the Twins’ middle relief corps, crushing 14 runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings alone. Target Field might as well have been Yankee Stadium what with all the booing, Bronx cheering, and the fans streaming out of there. A glorious day for Baltimore bats, who put up a season-high 15 runs on 17 hits.
Amidst all the offensive fireworks, it was easy to forget the Tortoise. But after posting an ERA north of seven over the last month, he crawled his way to a career-high 11 strikeouts and seven innings, the first time he’s completed that many since May.
As they say—in fables, if usually not in baseball games—slow and steady wins the race. It was a nice bounceback start for the veteran Kyle Gibson.
This was a highly unexpected result, especially if you watched the first inning. Joe Ryan easily whiffed the side, while Gibson walked the Twins’ leadoff man on four pitches, then served up a horrible meatball to Edouard Julien, who doubled in a run.
But all of a sudden, Gibson found his stuff again. With a runner still in scoring position, he erased Byron Buxton with a nasty changeup, retired Alex Kiriloff with a cutter, and whiffed the dangerous Donovan Solano with a ruthless sweeper.
After that, the crafty righty retired 16 Twins in a row. Gibson didn’t blow hitters away or anything like Ryan, but he was much more effective. It was great to see the righty find “Good Gibson” again. His only other run allowed came on a sixth-inning home run by Edouard Julien, again.
If baseball were about nothing but beautiful starting pitching, Joe Ryan would have won this game and the Twins would be probable World Series contenders. But as I’m told, that ain’t all it takes.
The Twins should be delighted with the talent they have on their hands. For the greater part of five innings, Orioles hitters had no answer for Joe Ryan and his high fastballs. He struck out the side in the first, struck out the side in the second, struck out two more in the third—look, there were a lot of strikeouts. It felt strange when an Oriole hitter didn’t strike out.
But he wasn’t bulletproof: in the second inning, newly-minted AL All-Star starting outfielder Austin Hays took a Ryan heater deep to make it a 1-1 game.
It’s true that strikeouts can elevate a pitch count. And Ryan seemed to quickly run out of gas in the fifth inning, walking a pair and exhibiting decreased velocity. Jordan Westburg muscled a single to right, demonstrating his impressive bat-to-ball skills. And Ramón Urías got an inside fastball and demolished it.
It's Ramón's Empire and we're just living in it. pic.twitter.com/9DUrbTrwv5— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 9, 2023
Wow! went my younger self. I can’t believe we managed to score three runs against this guy!
Those were innocent times… Ryan managed to get one more out, but he walked the next two Orioles. Like that, his day went from pure and utter domination to a quick hook in the fifth with two runners aboard.
Twins left-hander Jovani Moran was brought in to keep the game within reach, and at this, I can’t say he succeeded.
Before Moran’s day was over, the Orioles had turned a 3-1 lead into 8-1, blowing open the game with a seven-run fifth, tied for their most productive inning this season.
Moran’s first mistake was an RBI single surrendered to the most joyful pinch hitter you’ll ever see, Ryan Mountcastle, back off the IL, who poked a ball to center, got lifted for a pinch runner, and then got high-fives all down the dugout. 4-1 O’s! A Hays single followed to make it 5-1, all five runs charged to the starter.
Then Aaron Hicks hit a big blast, a three-run dong to put this game into “silly” territory. He’s a lively guy and he looks like he’s having fun out there.
FIRE US ALL THE WAY UP, AARON HICKS! pic.twitter.com/82aL2tL16T— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 9, 2023
To add insult to injury, Jordan Westburg tripled against the newest Twins reliever, Emilio Pagán. He didn’t score, but the Twins fans were still disgusted.
Onto the sixth. New Twins pitcher, more devastation: Cole Sands walked Gunnar Henderson, then decided to do Adley Rutschman a solid by throwing him BP ahead of the Home Run Derby. Nah, it wasn’t that bad a pitch, a slightly hung splitter. But Rutschman mauled it, an upper-deck bomb so majestic that even Kyle Gibson admired it from the dugout. Admiration mixed with gratitude. With a 10-1 lead, who cared what stuff he brought today? This was run support for the ages. Here’s Rutschman’s majestic blow:
Just a little Home Run Derby preview pic.twitter.com/3vf57o0gW3— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 9, 2023
Truly, this game was getting out of hand. And that was before Anthony Santander creamed an 89-mph something into the stands. And before Cedric Mullins cranked a ball just a few feet south of the fence, an RBI double that made it 12-1. Ramón Urías painfully fouled a ball off his foot, then came back and hit an RBI single. Mullins, come on down, it’s 13-1! Gunnar Henderson followed with an RBI single of his own. 14-1, why not?
Fans booed in disbelief. MASN’s Geoff Arnold quipped to Jim Palmer, “I’ll be honest with you, Jim, my scorecard is a mess right now.” Palmer agreed. “Boy, is this an ugly inning.”
And that was before Anthony Santander blasted his second home run of the day in the seventh. Even prettier a swing than his first one? I don’t know. You can talk about these things when your team is crushing home runs like it’s no one’s business.
The Tony Tater we want. The Tony Tater we need. pic.twitter.com/YXxISVCd5l— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 9, 2023
There was no suspense to this one, but there were two remaining moments of comedy. One was the camera cutting to Kyle Gibson, on ice for 30 minutes while his team hit bombs in the fifth inning, hopping around in place in the dugout to keep warm. Good for Gibson. His team didn’t need him to grit out seven innings today, but he did it.
Then, down 15-2 with two outs in the ninth, the Twins challenged an out call at first base to extend the game against reliever Eduard Bazardo. Um, okay! Bazardo closed it out with a strikeout anyway.
Talk about momentum headed into the break. The Orioles complete the sweep to finish the first half 54-35, a .606-win percentage that puts them on pace for 98 wins on the season. Did you see this coming? I didn’t. Enjoy the break!
Who was the Most Birdland Player on Sunday, July 9?
This poll is closed
Kyle Gibson (7 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 11 K)
Adley Rutschman (2-for-4, 2 RBI, BB, majestic dong to send him off to the HR Derby)
Austin Hays (2-for-5, 2 RBI, HR, started the scoring when Ryan looked unhittable)
Anthony Santander (2-for-4, 2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB)
Aaron Hicks (1-for-3, BB, 3-run bomb to break it open in 5th)
Ramón Urías (2-for-5, 3 RBI, 2-run HR off Ryan in 5th)