Never a doubt, Orioles. Never a doubt.
The O’s, after playing a distressingly close game against the Athletics in regulation, asserted their dominance in extra innings, rallying for five runs in the 10th to walk away with a 7-2 victory. An inning full of key hits, productive outs, and speed on the bases erased nine innings of offensive frustration and assured a series win over the A’s with a chance for the sweep tomorrow. The Birds also guaranteed a winning west coast road trip — improving to 5-3 with one game left — and extended their AL East lead to 2.5 games over the Rays, who split a doubleheader in Anaheim.
The end result was all that matters, but for a while this seemed like a game the O’s were going to let slip away. Their offense, after erupting for nine runs in Friday’s opener, had trouble putting runs on the scoreboard for much of the night. Even against A’s starter Ken Waldichuk — who entered the game with a 6.07 ERA in almost 100 innings pitched, and gives up more than 10 hits and five walks per nine innings — the O’s were stymied by the 25-year-old southpaw for the second time this year.
Waldichuk was wild, issuing a walk apiece in the first three innings, but the O’s couldn’t take advantage, stranding each of the three runners while failing to get a hit. The Orioles, in their defense, had a few well-struck balls that didn’t fall in, including two Adley Rutschman liners hit on the screws that found fielders’ gloves. I know Waldichuk had some good luck. That’s why “Ken Waldichuk” is an anagram of “Had luck, I knew.”
That luck left him in the fourth when two Orioles hit rockets that no fielder could track down. Austin Hays made the Birds’ first hit an emphatic one, swatting a drive into the left-field corner that didn’t clang off the foul pole — it got stuck in the foul pole, wedged between the chain links. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. It’s a home run all the same, and the Birds were on the board.
Two batters later, James McCann blistered a no-doubter dinger of his own, going 403 feet to center field for his fourth of the year. Don’t look now, but James McCann is tearing it up in the second half. McCann entered this game slashing .375/.422/.550 since the All-Star break. Those two solo shots, though, were the only runs the O’s would manage against Waldichuk, who ultimately departed after 5.2 innings.
For a while, at least, it seemed like two runs might be enough support for O’s starter Cole Irvin, who kept his former team in check. Irvin started out wild — plunking leadoff man Esteury Ruiz and walking Zack Gelof — but was helped out by McCann, who threw out the speedy Ruiz trying to steal second. It was only the ninth caught stealing of the year for Ruiz, who leads the AL with 48 stolen bases. Irvin struck out the final two batters of the inning.
Irvin’s only mistake came in the second, when Aledmys Díaz swatted a homer to left-center measured at exactly 400 feet. Irvin gave up a double later in the inning but kept the runner stranded, then did the same with two others in the third.
Irvin got stronger as the game went on, cruising through an easy fourth inning, then retiring the side on just five pitches in the fifth. At 77 pitches, there must have been some temptation for Brandon Hyde to stretch another inning out of Irvin, but he decided against it with the right-handed middle of the order due up for the A’s. For the second straight Saturday, Irvin delivered a capable five-inning effort that was good enough to win. In neither case, though, did he actually get the win.
Irvin handed a 2-1 lead to fellow former Athletic Shintaro Fujinami, pitching against his old club for the first time since they traded him to the Birds on July 19. Within two batters, the lead was gone. Díaz jumped on a hanging splitter and pulled it inside the left-field foul pole for his second home run of the game. Come on, guys! You’re letting Aledmys Díaz do this to you, of all people? He had a .573 OPS and only two home runs the entire season until tonight. Fujinami retired the other three batters he faced, two on strikeouts, but the game was tied at two.
Frustratingly, in each of the next three innings, the O’s put the leadoff man on base but failed to break the tie. Happily, the O’s bullpen held strong in the meantime. Yennier Cano ripped through a 1-2-3 seventh, and though he gave up a leadoff single in the eighth, he was bailed out by Cionel Pérez, who looked filthy in striking out two batters. Cionel has now pitched nine games this month without allowing an earned run, with nine strikeouts and just two walks (one intentional) in seven innings. If Pérez is finally rediscovering his dominant 2022 form, that’d be a giant boost for the O’s bullpen.
Speaking of (literal) giants in the bullpen, Félix Bautista, pitching on four days’ rest, entered the ninth in a tie game and did that thing where he just blows everyone away. The Mountain set down all three batters on just nine pitches. And off we went to extra innings for the third time in the last seven games.
A bit of extra baseball, as it turned out, was just what the doctor ordered to get the Orioles’ bats going. Free runner Adam Frazier advanced to third on a wild pitch by Adrián Martinez, Oakland’s fifth pitcher of the night. After a Rutschman leadoff walk, Ryan Mountcastle — who exactly a week ago delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the 10th in Seattle — perfectly replicated that feat, again roping a base hit up the middle to bring in the tiebreaking run. Mountcastle is clutch, y’all. And the O’s were off to the races.
A hit batsman loaded the bases for Jordan Westburg, who until that point had been having an absolutely miserable time in his first major league game as a cleanup hitter. He’d gone 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a double play. This time, Westburg came through, lofting a deep sac fly to center to plate Rutschman and make it a 4-2 game. Hays followed with a bouncer to short as Mountcastle broke for the plate. Nick Allen tried to cut him down but his throw skipped past the catcher. And after Hays stole second to put two in scoring position, McCann came through again, smoking a sharp single to left to plate both runners. You cannot stop James McCann; you can only hope to contain him. Five runs were on the board in the 10th inning. Now we’re having fun!
With the O’s now carrying a comfortable 7-2 lead, Hyde pulled Bautista rather than push him for a second inning of work. Jacob Webb, at first, made Hyde start to regret that decision, issuing a HBP and walk to load the bases with nobody out. Nothing is ever easy. But a mound visit with McCann helped things click into place for Webb, who unfurled his deadly changeup to great effect, striking out Tony Kemp, Lawrence Butler, and that pesky Díaz in succession. What a recovery, and what a way to finish up another impressive O’s win.
Just another day for the magical 2023 Orioles.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Saturday, August 19?
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Austin Hays (HR that stuck in the foul pole, two RBIs)
James McCann (HR, two-run single, threw out the speedy Ruiz)
Ryan Mountcastle (two walks, another game-winning RBI single in 10th)