The Orioles did not clinch the AL East tonight. But it wasn’t through any fault of their own.
The Birds more than did their part, steamrolling the Nationals, 5-1, to complete a four-game season series sweep of their interleague rivals. Unfortunately, they got no help from the useless Red Sox, who lost again to the Rays to keep Tampa Bay mathematically within reach of the Orioles.
For now, the O’s will have to settle for their 99th win and a magic number of one. With just one victory in their season-ending four-game set against those same useless Red Sox, the Orioles will win the division. Clinchmas draws ever closer, and could happen tomorrow night at Camden Yards.
As for tonight, the Birds displayed the kind of all-around excellence that has led them to the sixth-most wins in franchise history. It started with rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, who came out firing against an overmatched Nationals lineup. Other than a two-out single by Keibert Ruiz in the first, the Nats couldn’t touch him for the first four innings. Rodriguez retired 13 of the first 14 batters he faced, racking up four strikeouts in that span and inducing plenty of weak contact. His fastball sat “only” at 97, but he mixed it effectively with a slider, curveball, and changeup to keep hitters guessing.
Grayson looked every bit like the pitcher who twirled eight scoreless innings against the Rays a couple weeks ago and less like the one who slogged through five laborious innings in Cleveland, unable to put hitters away. He didn’t quite sustain that dominance the whole night, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Meanwhile, the Orioles staked Rodriguez to an early lead against Nats starter Patrick Corbin. Austin Hays led off the third inning with a walk, and Adley Rutschman promptly clobbered a two-run homer into the bullpen, his 20th of the year. Adley becomes the third Oriole, after Gunnar Henderson (28) and Anthony Santander (27), to reach the 20-homer mark this season. Ryan Mountcastle, who’s expected to be back in the lineup tomorrow, could join them if he homers twice in the Birds’ final four games.
The 2-0 lead held until the top of the fifth, when the Orioles’ season-long shutout of the Nationals finally ended after 31 consecutive scoreless innings. Dominic Smith roped a one-out double, the Nats’ first baserunner since the opening inning, and with two down, Jake Alu poked a run-scoring single to left, cutting the Birds’ lead to 2-1. Someday, if you’re presented with the incredibly obscure trivia question, “Who was the only Nationals batter to drive in a run against the Orioles in 2023?”, you’ve got your answer. Jake Alu.
The Orioles, embarrassed that they’d actually allowed the Nationals to score, responded in duplicate in the bottom half of the inning. Jorge Mateo started the rally with a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a passed ball, and swiped third base without a throw. Rutschman swiftly singled him home with a sharp hit to right. A Santander single and Aaron Hicks walk loaded the bases as the Birds threatened to blow the game open against Corbin.
The lefty gave himself a temporary reprieve, making a great play to field a Gunnar Henderson slow roller and throw out Rutschman at the plate, but he lost a battle with Jordan Westburg, walking him on a 3-2 slider to force home another run. That finished Corbin’s night after 4.2 innings and four runs, though reliever Andrés Machado fanned James McCann to strand the bases loaded and spare him further damage.
Now up three, Rodriguez appeared on his way to a quality start, but he couldn’t quite make it through the sixth. The Nats alternated a couple of singles with a pair of outs, bringing the possible tying run to the plate, and Brandon Hyde elected to turn to his suddenly well-rested bullpen for a lefty-lefty matchup with Luis García. No, not that Luis Garcia. Not that one, either. This Luis García. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because the Nationals pinch-hit for him with Carter Kieboom, who popped out against Danny Coulombe to strand both runners.
That closed the book on Rodriguez, who worked 5.2 innings and gave up one run on six hits, striking out five and walking none. He finishes his first regular season with a 4.35 ERA in 23 starts, an impressive accomplishment considering it was 7.35 after his first 10. In the second half he emerged as every bit the front-line starter Orioles fans were hoping he’d become. We’ll see you in the postseason, Grayson.
Once the bullpens came in, the scoring petered out, aside from a Hays RBI single in the sixth off Machado that made it 5-1. The Orioles’ relief crew was completely unhittable, retiring all 10 batters they faced. Coulombe mowed through a perfect seventh with two groundouts and a strikeout, Jacob Webb cruised through the eighth with two Ks and a lineout, and Tyler Wells, in his second relief appearance since returning from the minors, looked particularly sharp, fanning the first two batters before a game-ending groundout. It was a nice return to early-season form for Wells, who’s auditioning for a postseason relief spot.
The Rays’ victory in Boston was well in the books before the O’s game ended, so the Birds knew they weren’t going to be celebrating a clincher tonight. They’ll get their chance very soon. For now, let’s enjoy yet another well-played win.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Wednesday, September 27?
This poll is closed
Grayson Rodriguez (5.2 IP, 1 ER, 5 K)
Adley Rutschman (two hits, 20th HR, 3 RBI)