The Orioles earned their 38th comeback win of the season on Friday night, beating the Rockies 5-4 on a clutch Gunnar Henderson homer in the eighth inning. But it was all clouded by an arm injury to closer Félix Bautista that ended the victorious evening on a rather sour note.
The Birds got on the board early against Rockies starter Kyle Freeland. Ryan Mountcastle launched the fifth pitch of the first inning out to right-center field and onto the roof of the grounds crew’s shed for a solo home run. It was not exactly a leisurely stroll around the bases for the O’s slugger, though. The outfielders played the ball as if it was still in play, and half of the umpiring crew went right along with that. So instead, Mountcastle sprinted around to third base and then walked home when a wayward throw went into the stands. Ultimately, none that was deemed necessary. It should have been a run-of-the-mill round-tripper.
idk what just happened but it’s 1-0 pic.twitter.com/YKvKyl8zzr— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) August 25, 2023
Anthony Santander followed that up with a single and moved to third on an Austin Hays double. That put him in position to trot home from third on a Henderson sacrifice fly to center field for an early 2-0 lead for the good guys.
Unfortunately, the O’s were unable to keep the pressure on Freeland. Following a lead-off single from Jordan Westburg in the bottom of the second inning, the next 12 Oriole hitters in a row were retired.
All the while, Colorado’s lineup had Cole Irvin on the ropes. The Baltimore starter worked around lead-off baserunners in each of the first two innings, but the visitors would finally score in the third. Charlie Blackmon reached on a one-out single and later rounded for home on an Elias Díaz double to make it 2-1.
Díaz with the bat, Charlie with the wheels pic.twitter.com/vQY3Hfmwba— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) August 25, 2023
The Rockies evened the score in the fourth with an Alan Trejo sac fly to score Nolan Jones, who had singled earlier in the frame. Then they took the lead in the fifth with a two-run shot off the bat of Ezequiel Tovar, scoring Blackmon and giving the NL West foe a 4-2 advantage.
Despite the regular traffic on the bases, Irvin was able to stay on through the sixth inning, just one out short of his longest start this season. It certainly wasn’t his finest showing as he coughed up four runs on six hits, including the home run. But he was able to limit the damage thanks to just the one walk and an ability to avoid any big innings.
The bottom of the sixth inning is where it felt like the Orioles may have had a shot to really take control of the game. Freeland returned to the bump and was about to face the heart of the O’s lineup for a third time. Mountcastle even led off the frame with a single, but then an Anthony Santander double play seemed to erase any chance of a crooked number going on the board.
Fear not, for Austin Hays is here to salvage the opportunity. He made Freeland pay for leaving a breaking ball over the heart of the plate, lifting it to right-center field and onto that very same roof that Mountcastle had smacked in the first inning. There was no doubt here. Hays had trimmed the lead to just one run. A pair of singles gave the O’s another runner in scoring position, but there was no more scoring to come in the inning.
That’s where the bullpens took over, and once again the Orioles proved to have the upper hand there. On this night it was Shintaro Fujinami that carried the load. The hard-throwing righty has oscillated between sublime and sub-optimal during his stint in Baltimore. He had the good stuff in this one.
Fujinami’s fastball had a little extra on it, touching triple digits, and the Rockies offense couldn’t even put up much of a fight. It took him just 23 pitches to get through two innings, record two strikeouts, and not issue any walks. Of those 23 pitches he threw, 16 of them were for strikes. When he’s in the zone, Fujinami is mighty hard to square up.
That kept the Orioles within striking distance, and that’s all this team of comeback kids usually needs to make things real interesting late in games.
And who else would it be to come up big in the bottom of the eightth inning but the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year himself, Henderson. After Hays worked a one out walk, Henderson laced an elevated slider just over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field to lift the O’s from down a run to up a run.
Then it was Mountain Time. Félix Bautista jogged in from the bullpen, took his warm-ups, and prepared for yet another save opportunity. The game got back underway, and he looked as good as ever. His fastball averaged over 100 mph, flirting with 102 mph. The first two outs were as easy as you like: a strikeout and weak grounder. But then things got scary with the third batter he faced.
After unleashing a 102-mph fastball up and away for a ball, Bautista twisted off the mound in a somewhat awkward way, but not in a particularly concerning way. Nevertheless, a small army of Orioles staff made their way out to the mound, including manager Brandon Hyde and head trainer Brian Ebel. There was brief discussion, but then Bautista walked off alongside Ebel without even taking a warm-up toss to test things out.
Naturally, we are all freaking out. Bautista is the best reliever in baseball. He’s probably going to garner at least a few Cy Young votes. While this team is not made or broken by any one individual, but Bautista is awfully important to what they do. And given that he had a knee issue a year ago that ended his season a tad early, there is reason to be concerned here. But we will wait to hear official word on what the problem is before going overboard. The only thing that Hyde said postgame was that Bautista experienced “arm discomfort,” and that he would undergo a number of tests. Hoo boy.
Following Bautista’s exit, there was still one out to record. Danny Coulombe, who just returned from the IL himself, was tasked with getting it. It would take him just one pitch as Bautista had already notched the first two strikes, so Coulombe finished things off with a biting curveball that Michael Toglia offered at, and the game was over.
The win itself is great! It gets the Orioles to 80 wins on the year, and the Rays’ loss to the Yankees means the division lead is back to three games. To see Henderson continue to come through is incredible, and getting an inspiring performance from Fujinami feels significant. But Bautista’s injury will naturally cloud the night overall until we know more. For now, we will celebrate the W and hope for the best on the injury front.
These two teams are back at it on Saturday night. Kyle Bradish (8-6, 3.03 ERA) will look to claim the AL ERA crown for himself, and he will be opposed by Chris Flexen (1-5, 7.18 ERA). First pitch is 7:05.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for August 25?
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Gunnar Henderson (go-ahead homer, 3 RBI)
Shintaro Fujinami (two scoreless innings of relief)