Birdland, meet Jack Flaherty. It wasn’t the flashiest of trade deadline acquisitions. Ignore the inflated ERA and four-and-a-half walks per game, he’s a good pitcher, we were told. Yep. Well, today was our first impression of Flaherty and to quote Ben McDonald, “This was better than good.”
Flaherty put on a six-inning, one-run masterclass in Toronto. He allowed the first two hitters of the game to reach, but then suddenly, his fastball command kicked in and he found his breaking stuff. Flaherty skated through five scoreless innings in just 57 pitches, mowing down fifteen Blue Jays in a row at one point. That included eight strikeouts in six innings, seven of them on breaking balls.
It wasn’t just the results that looked good. His stuff looked fantastic, too. His fastball averaged about 94 mph, with nice location. He also threw about 40% breaking balls, mixing in a wicked knuckle curve, a slider, a good cutter, and a changeup, and got 16 whiffs with this arsenal. I’d been told he was mostly a fastball-slider guy. Um, did we accidentally sign Gerrit Cole?
I don’t want to just write, “And then Flaherty retired another Blue Jay” 20 times, so let me hit the highlights. With runners on first and third and one out in the first inning, Flaherty punched out George Springer with a pair of nasty sliders, then dotted three pinpoint 96-mph fastballs in the zone to sit down Matt Chapman. Wow.
In the second, he struck out the catcher Alejandro Kirk (an excellent hitter, BTW) with this sequence: fastball-knuckle curve-slider-cutter. And he whiffed his old teammate, Paul DeJong, with a huge knuckle-curve. Rude!
Flare (or is it Flash? I’m still learning the nicknames) got the dangerous Whit Merrifield to line out in the third inning after feeding him three straight knuckle curves. And in the fourth, facing Vlad Guerrero, Jr., he dotted two heaters on the outside corner, then got the big righty fishing on a knuckle curve, his seventh K in 4.1 innings. Another “wow” moment.
Same in the fifth—after a curve disappeared away from Alejandro Kirk, Ben McDonald offered, “You can’t throw that any better than this.” Daulton Varsho even tried bunting himself aboard, but Ryan Mountcastle outran him to the bag.
The Blue Jays finally broke the Flaherty spell in the sixth. Kevin Kiermaier and Whit Merrifield singled on consecutive sliders left up, and Vlad Guerrero poked the sixth pitch he saw into right field, allowing the speedy Kiermaier to go home. Despite still hitting 96 on the radar gun, Flaherty seemed tired, appearing to have lost his feel for his breaking pitches. He threw four out of the zone to the slumping George Springer to bring up the dangerous Matt Chapman with the bases loaded.
Did he still have anything in the tank? Brandon Hyde let his starter know that he had confidence in him. This time Hyde’s trust was repaid: Flaherty dropped two perfect breaking balls on the corner to retire Chapman, and he threw a knuckle curve for a strike to get Kirk to fly out. A really nice recovery.
Overall, Flaherty’s pitching line was three hits, two walks and a run in six innings. Conclusion: the guy knows how to make a first impression, and the Orioles might have more in him than we’d been led to believe.
Now, I haven’t mentioned the Orioles offense at all, but almost more surprising than Flaherty’s debut was what the Orioles did to Kevin Gausman. Pushing three runs across on eight hits and two walks in 4.1 innings wasn’t so much steamrolling Gausman as annoying him, but they pushed up his pitch count to 103 before he could get through five! The two Ryans were the standouts here. O’Hearn worked Gausman for 20 pitches in three at-bats, and Mountcastle went 4-for-4 with a sac fly. (That gave him, hilariously, an 11-for-13 line with a 2.056 OPS in this Toronto series.)
The Orioles scored two runs against Gausman in a second inning where they forced him to throw 43 pitches. O’Hearn saw 10 pitches before grounding out. The “other Ryan” singled the other way and aggressively took third base when Adam Frazier singled to center. With men on first and third, Austin Hays kept the party going, fouling off four pitches before driving Pitch #9 into left, scoring Mountcastle. Ramón Urías walked on four pitches. With two outs, Adley Rutschman saw one fastball too many, and bam, a single the other way. Adam Frazier scored. Austin Hays was tagged out at the plate, but hey, they were up 2-0 and were tiring out the starter.
This proved crucial, because the Birds drove Gausman out of the game after just four and a third innings. In the fifth inning, Gunnar Henderson and Ryan O’Hearn both sat on splitters, and singled back-to-back. O’Hearn was the last batter Gausman would see before Toronto pulled him for right-hander Bowden Francis. Ryan Mountcastle is on such a roll that he looked furious at the 359-foot sac fly he hit to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. But he had a point. My only complaint today was all the Birds left on base, nine today.
Baltimore got a funny insurance run in the eighth inning against reliever Thomas Hatch. Austin Hays singled, Ramón Urías walked (his third free pass today) and Ryan McKenna hit a sac bunt. The usually sure-handed Matt Chapman chucked away, allowing Hays to trot home with the O’s fourth run.
The Birds would get two more insurance runs in the ninth. You should know that the .115-hitting Colton Cowser, batting as a defensive replacement for O’Hearn, doubled to center in the top of the ninth to end an 0-for-12. It was a big hit. While the MASN announcers wondered if the Jays would pitch to him, Ryan Mountcastle cranked his fourth hit of the game. Then Frazier pushed home Cowser with a sac fly before Austin Hays hit his fourth hit of the game, driving home Mounty.
You can never be too careful of late with this Orioles bullpen, but tonight, they didn’t have to worry. Danny Coulombe was perfect. Yennier Cano was perfect. And Mike Baumann, pitching with a 6-1 lead and giving Bautista a rest for one night, closed this one out with one hit allowed.
In short: the Orioles did a lot of little things right today. Jack Flaherty might be really good. Ryan Mountcastle loves Canada. And so do the Orioles. The Orioles take the series 3-1 and are up 8-2 on them on the season.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for August 3?
This poll is closed
Jack Flaherty (welcome to B-more! 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K)
Ryan Mountcastle (4-for-4, 2 R, RBI, hilarious .846 BA and 2.056 OPS against TOR this series)
Austin Hays (4-for-5, R, 2 RBI)