Welcome to the Heavyweight Title Match of Wednesday night: old versus new, grizzled versus green, Gibson versus Rom. On August 1, the Orioles traded away three prospects to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for some veteran help for the starting rotation. Thus far, that veteran help hasn’t exactly materialized, and instead, one of the departed prospects, left hander Drew Rom, ended up making a dazzling Camden Yards debut in a red uniform.
In some ways, both of tonight’s starters were unknown quantities: Rom entered tonight with four career starts, and despite Kyle Gibson being in his eleventh season, lately it’s been impossible to know which version of him will show up on any given day, as he’s alternating seven- and nine-run outings with solid (if admittedly not great) ones.
Well, here’s how that matchup turned out: Kyle Gibson turned in his best start in months, six and two-thirds innings of one-run baseball. His breaking stuff was filthy, and he drew nine whiffs on his sweeper alone. The problem was: Drew Rom was good. Annoyingly good. “Why didn’t we just promote this guy instead of trading for Jack Flaherty?” good.
The 23-year-old left hander had been given a clear assignment by the Cardinals tonight: Don’t leave pitches in the strike zone for the Orioles to hit. And at this, he succeeded. Over five-and-a-third innings, Rom nibbled around the zone, allowing no runs, two hits, and three walks. (One walk was of a concerning variety: Ryan Mountcastle grimaced on a swing before trotting to first. Trainer Brian Ebel let him keep playing, but Mountcastle would leave the game early with an injured shoulder.) The Rom fastball lives in the not-too-fearsome range of 91-93 mph, but the Orioles, it appears, could not pick up on it.
Unusually, the one Oriole to reach base twice against Rom was their worst hitter by far, Jorge Mateo. Both times, the team wasted his effort. In the fourth, more Rom nibbling led to a leadoff Mateo walk, and before you could even say “Don’t walk that guy!,” Mateo had stolen his 29th base of the season. But then Rom unexpectedly struck out the side: Adley, batting from the right, Ramón Urías, in for Mountcastle, and Anthony Santander, fanning weakly at the “heat” coming in at him on the outer third of the zone.
Mateo reached again with the Orioles’ first hit off Rom, a two-out infield single in the fifth. (It was 105 off the bat, so give the speedster some credit.) But an out-of-sorts Adley Rutschman flew out, and Mateo was stranded.
The first extra-base hit the Orioles finally managed off Drew Rom came in the sixth inning with one out, as Anthony Santander roped a double to right field. At 93 pitches and a rookie, Rom got no extra rope himself from Cardinals manager Oli Marmol, who yanked him and brought in right-hander Casey Lawrence. Unfortunately, the gambit worked. Lawrence walked Austin Hays, but secured two consecutive flyball outs.
A better baseball analyst than myself will tell you if Drew Rom was on fire, or if the Orioles bats were cold. What I can safely say is: tonight, Kyle Gibson’s best work in over a month was totally wasted.
You can’t be at all angry with what the veteran righty did. After an ERA north of 7.00 in the last month, six and two-thirds innings of one-run baseball are a gift. Yes, walks were a bit of trouble for Gibson, with four in the first four innings. But this looked like the result of him mixing up his pitches, not generalized wildness. In fact, the sweeper and the cutter had so much movement tonight you figured: maybe Gibson was confusing himself.
In the fourth inning, he allowed a home run onto the flag court on one of the flattest pitches you will ever see, a stunning frisbee of a fastball down the middle to Richie Palacios. Not for nothing is the Gibson heater considered one of the worst fastballs in the league.
Despite that, Gibson steered his way deep into the ballgame without further damage. He pitched a beautiful three-up, three-down sixth, polished off with a swinging strikeout of Tyler O’Neill. With two outs in the seventh, Gibson allowed a double to catcher Andrew Knizner and Brandon Hyde finally brought out the hook. It worked, as dark horse extraordinaire Jacob Webb whiffed José Fermín in spectacular fashion. (Who is this guy?)
Overall, it’s hard to complain with this Orioles starter performance. You sensed that Gibson would have wanted to give his team that third out and more, but you know what? Credit the veteran for messing with his arsenal and inundating the Cardinals with lots of stuff with nasty break. If he’s pitching like this, there is room for Kyle Gibson in the rotation any day.
The Orioles bullpen gave absolutely no cause for complaint, either. In the top of the eighth inning, Jacob Webb surrendered a two-out walk, but DL Hall came in and got Tyler O’Neill to swing through a high heater to keep the Cardinals from adding to their lead. Shintaro Fujinami pitched the ninth and did exactly nothing to make you doubt that the man has lockdown stuff.
But the fact remained: the Orioles were still a run short. Against a St. Louis bullpen ranked in the middle of the pack, they failed to do much. They couldn’t push a run across in the seventh against right-hander Giovanny Gallegos. Or against left hander John King in the eighth.
St. Louis called upon right hander Ryan Helsley for the ninth. Helsley got Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins swinging through high heat, 100 just above the zone. Gunnar Henderson had the Orioles’ biggest hit of the game, a triple deep to Elrod’s Corner. (In 2021, that was a game-tying home run. I’m just saying.) But Aaron Hicks popped out, and the game was over.
What a weird game. Were the Orioles bad? Was Drew Rom good? I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it. It’s good that Kyle Gibson is looking cromulent on the mound. But things don’t get any easier with the Rays coming to town tomorrow.