You guys. Can we stop for a moment and appreciate how awesome it is to be an Orioles fan right now?
Only two years ago on this date, the Orioles were 31 games below .500, languishing through their fifth straight irrelevant season, and were in the middle of a losing streak that would reach 19 straight games. They were unsightly. Inept. Incompetent. It felt like it would be eons until the O’s were even watchable again, let alone legitimate postseason contenders.
Tonight, the O’s felt like the kings of the world. An energetic, sellout crowd of 44,326 packed the Camden Yards stands. Some of the greatest players in franchise history turned out to celebrate the 1983 World Series champion Orioles in a joyous pre-game ceremony. And the 2023 Orioles delivered a performance more than worthy of the electric atmosphere, showing off their power at the plate, their speed on the bases, and a good, old-fashioned stellar pitching performance in a lively 7-3 win over the Mets. The victory, along with Tampa Bay’s loss to the Tigers earlier in the afternoon, extended the Orioles’ AL East lead to three games.
What a turnaround it’s been for this ballclub. And it’s not stopping here.
The fans were into things well before the game began, showing their appreciation for the reunited 1983 champions with standing ovations for Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer, and other stars from that historic team as they were introduced one by one. Most of the present-day Orioles watched the ceremony from the dugout, then did their best to honor them with a playoff-caliber performance of their own once they took the field.
The Orioles jumped out to a quick first-inning lead. Tonight’s game, had the Mets not sold off half their roster at the trade deadline, would have been Justin Verlander’s turn to pitch. But with Verlander shipped back to Houston on Tuesday, the Mets summoned struggling righty Tylor Megill from Triple-A to make the start. I think it’s safe to say the O’s approved of the swap. They made Megill labor for 102 pitches without getting out of the fifth inning.
Adley Rutschman got the party started with a leadoff single in the first. Gunnar Henderson worked the count full and then blistered a hanging changeup into the center field bleachers — where a fan made a nifty catch on the fly — for a thunderous two-run homer. Mr. Splash was pressed into early duty, faithfully spraying his charges in section 86. It was far from the last time. The O’s quickly led in front of a fired-up crowd, 2-0.
Two innings later, the O’s added on with a two-out rally. Anthony Santander smoked a double the opposite way to left, and Ryan O’Hearn blooped a single in front of Mets left fielder DJ Stewart. Santander scored to make it a 3-0 game.
Meanwhile, O’s starter Kyle Gibson was on cruise control. For the first three innings, he mowed down every Mets hitter he saw, beautifully mixing his cutter, changeup, and four-seamer up and down the zone to keep batters flailing. The Mets never even got a ball out of the infield during that stretch, striking out six times and grounding out three. Impressive stuff from Gibson.
The Mets, though, weren’t quite as fooled in the fourth. A Brandon Nimmo leadoff double busted up Gibson’s modest perfecto, and Jeff McNeil promptly ended the shutout as well, lofting a deep fly that snuck just over the out-of-town scoreboard in right for a two-run homer. That slashed the O’s lead to 3-2.
But the Orioles quickly got those two runs right back. In the fourth, Jordan Westburg doubled and scored on a Ramón Urías two-bagger down the first-base line. And in the fifth, Anthony Santander flat-out demolished a baseball. Megill fell behind 3-0 in the count and apparently figured Santander would be taking all the way, so he just grooved a nothingburger fastball right down the middle. Surprise! Santander was swinging, and 406 feet later, the ball landed in the flag court. Mr. Splash, do your thing. The blast made Anthony the first O’s hitter to reach 20 homers this season.
Again the Mets tried to cut into the lead — on a McNeil RBI single in the sixth — and again the O’s immediately responded. In the sixth it was the tandem of Colton Cowser and Ryan McKenna, two guys who haven’t exactly been tearing it up at the plate, who sparked the rally. Cowser patiently drew a leadoff walk from reliever Grant Hartwig, and McKenna smoked a double down the left-field line. DJ Stewart, who as O’s fans have witnessed is not defensively gifted, had some trouble corralling the ball in the corner, and third base coach Tony Mansolino aggressively waved Cowser home. He slid home safely for run number six.
Gibson took the mound in the seventh, looking to complete seven full innings for the fifth time this season. He did it with ease. He induced two easy groundouts to second, and after losing Brett Baty on a 3-2 pitch for his first and only walk of the night, Gibson needed just one more pitch to retire Francisco Alvarez on another grounder to Westburg at second.
Gibson exited the mound to a loud ovation from the sellout crowd, and deservedly so. What a performance. Seven innings, three runs, five baserunners, and nine strikeouts. It was his fourth consecutive quality start.
Danny Coulombe worked a scoreless eighth with help from his defense. With one out, Nimmo roped a base hit to left-center field and, seeing that the left fielder Cowser was slow to get to the ball, tried to stretch it into a double. Mistake! Cowser fired a great throw to second, and Westburg slapped the tag on Nimmo’s fingers just in the nick of time. A potential valuable runner was cut down, and the Mets didn’t score.
The O’s added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when Cowser singled, stole second, and scored on a Rutschman base hit up the middle that he hustled into a double. I have to say that the Orioles’ aggressiveness on the bases has been delightful to watch. They’re constantly hustling, taking the extra base, swiping bags, and taking what the defense gives them. It’s a big part of what makes them such a dangerous team.
The only downside of the eighth-inning run is that it moved the game out of save-situation range, which meant the crowd was deprived of seeing the classic Félix Bautista entrance and lights show in the ninth. Bautista sat down and Yennier Cano came in instead. Oh well, I think an easy win is a nice consolation. Cano allowed a leadoff double but retired the next three batters, and another O’s victory was in the books.
You couldn’t ask for a better night at the ballpark.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Saturday, Aug. 5?
This poll is closed
Colton Cowser (reached base twice, 2 R, SB, outfield assist)
Anthony Santander (first Oriole to hit 20 HRs this year)
Kyle Gibson (7 IP, 3 ER, 9 K, fourth straight QS)