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Orioles lose a staredown to the Blue Jays in ten innings, 6-3

Grayson Rodriguez gritted out six innings and the O’s gritted out three runs against Yusei Kikuchi, but Mike Baumann allowed the game-winning home run in the tenth.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles
The defensive play of the game, an unassisted double play by Ryan Mountcastle in the second inning. Too bad he couldn’t also throw in relief, too.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Let me save you some time and trouble: The Orioles played nine innings of tight, clean baseball. Grayson Rodriguez hung tough against one of the tougher arms in the game right now, Yusei Kikuchi. Both teams scratched out three runs against the opposing starter, and both bullpens hung tough for the remainder of regular play. One team blinked first, and sad to say, it was the Orioles. With the ghost runner aboard in the tenth, Mike Baumann’s first pitch was launched into the stands by Brandon Belt. A wild pitch allowed a third run to come home, and Toronto had themselves a 6-3 win in Game 1 of this three-game series.

It left a bitter taste in the mouth. An unusual one, too, because the Orioles have been so good in close games: they’re 12-4 when they’re tied after eight, and they have 37 comeback wins on the season. Their bullpen has been so good, but tonight a weak link was exposed.

The Orioles also lost a game to Tampa Bay, who came back to beat the lowly Rockies and moved to within two of Baltimore for the AL East lead. So that kind of sucked. Then again, I’m a glass half-full kind of person, so I’ll give you the positives to take away from Monday night. They would be these:

1. Grayson Rodriguez showed up to pitch with nothing like this best stuff, but he didn’t collapse. He might have, earlier in the season, but tonight, he hung around for a quality start—six innings with three runs allowed. That was quite impressive in itself, considering that six of the first eight Blue Jays hitters reached against Rodriguez, to the tune of two quick runs.

Leading off the second, Rodriguez walked George Springer, then Daulton Varsho launched an 0-2 fastball into the bleachers. Pitching coach Chris Holt came out for a chat. Did his words of advice work? Yes, if we’re going by pure results: the lefty Kevin Kiermaier stung a line drive toward right field, but 1B Ryan Mountcastle gobbled it up, diving to his left, and tagged the bag for an unassisted double play.

Meanwhile, Grayson got stronger as the game went on. He allowed another run on a single and double in the fourth inning, but he got through the fifth with just a single and retired the side in the sixth, the last two hitters on strikeouts. As MASN’s Ben McDonald never tires of saying, “The youngster’s learning how to pitch.” The stuff wasn’t there tonight, but he made it work.

2. Sometimes starting pitchers beat themselves, and sometimes you have to chip away at them with a chisel and a hammer. Yusei Kikuchi came into this start with a 1.29 ERA in his last six starts and he left it having allowed three runs in four and two-thirds innings, looking puzzled and miffed. All three of those runs had to be manufactured, and it was a real pleasure to watch this offense do it.

With two outs in the first inning, Gunnar Henderson cracked a first pitch single then stole second to get into scoring position. With his team in need of a clutch hit, Austin Hays delivered, driving home Henderson. The O’s have specialized in clutch hits all year (their OPS with RISP: .841, 3rd in MLB), and they had one early today.

The Orioles broke through against Kikuchi again in the fifth. How’s this for manufacturing a run? Jorge Mateo showed nice touch—and great bend in the knees—to drop down and lash a single to left. Adley singled, pushing the O’s speedster to second. Buzzing around the bag, Mateo drew two disengagements from Kikuchi, then took off for third. Daringly, the O’s sent Adley too! Catcher Danny Jannsen fired to second, and the throw bounced into center field. Mateo trotted home easily. “Mateo stole a run!” went the MASN booth. They spoke the truth. More two-out baton-passing: Austin Hays worked a two-out walk, an aggressive Toronto manager pulled Kikuchi after just 82 pitches, and facing the tough Yimi García, Jordan Westburg showed massive maturity, fouling off several breaking balls before dumping an inside fastball into left field. We were all tied up! Too bad there wasn’t more on the way: James McCann got plunked by a 98-mph fastball on the hand to load the bases, but Cedric Mullins popped out.

3. The Orioles bullpen was nails … well, obviously, until the tenth inning, when it wasn’t. But the happy takeaway from what we saw tonight is that a few arms who’ve looked unsteady in recent weeks have found their bearings again. That includes new Oriole Jacob Webb, whose scoreless streak since joining the team continues. It definitely includes Cionel Pérez, who kept hitting the outside corner (even though the ump robbed him of a few calls) and got a huge two-out strikeout of Brandon Belt.

Also Yennier Cano, who after a 4.50 ERA in July, was back to showcasing his looping old filth of yore. He retired Guerrero on a grounder, then froze George Springer, who looked like he had no idea what was being thrown at him. Cano allowed a weak single and a swinging strike three that had so much movement James McCann lost it. But no matter, more baffling stuff drew an inning-ending bounceout.

With nobody hitting a thing (including the Orioles, who did exactly nothing against Toronto’s wicked slate of relievers—Trevor Richards, Jordan Hicks, Erik Swanson, Tim Mayza, and Jordan Romano), Brandon Hyde brought on the Mountain. He looked as nasty as ever. One pitch: popout. Four more: weak groundout. Bo Bichette got 100 inside, then a splitter that dropped off the table. “You could have a boat paddle,” said Ben McDonald, “and you wouldn’t hit it.”

So yeah, extra innings… proved a little disappointing. After putting up goose eggs for five innings, Toronto pushed three across against the Orioles’ fifth reliever of the day, Mike Baumann. Should Mike Baumann be a late-innings option for a playoff-pushing Orioles? It feels like it’s a little too easy for MLB hitters to “sit fastball” on him and launch one into the stands. Belt did it tonight. Seattle’s Dominic Canzone did it just a week ago (and only a Cedric Mullins home run robbery kept it from being two).

We’ll let the front office worry about that one. For now, time to have a short memory and move onto tomorrow.