For the 2023 Orioles, tying for the fifth-best season in franchise history wasn’t quite enough. So let’s make it the fourth-best.
The Birds entertained a sellout crowd at Camden Yards with a 5-2 victory over the Red Sox, giving them their 101st win of the season. They’ve now passed the 1980 Birds in the win category and equaled the mark of the 1971 club. In their season finale tomorrow, they could tie the 1979 Orioles for the third-most wins in team history. It’s...pretty spectacular.
This game, in all honesty, was less than spectacular for much of the night. In a matchup between two teams with nothing on the line, neither club’s offense was particularly locked in. Players’ minds were already drifting to what lies ahead: for the Orioles, the playoffs; for the Red Sox, trudging home uselessly after a last-place finish.
For six and a half innings of this game, no runs crossed the plate. That extended the Orioles’ scoreless streak to 15 straight innings since clinching the AL East on Thursday night. Still feeling the effects of that boisterous locker room celebration, I suppose. They were dominated by Red Sox starter Kutter Crawford, who held them to one meager hit in six shutout innings, striking out seven. And in case you were wondering, yes, Kutter does throw a cutter. With a name like that, major league pitcher was really the only profession he could’ve chosen. Either that or, like, lumberjack. Or...serial killer? I’m glad he chose pitcher.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had a ton of scoring chances against O’s starter Kyle Gibson, but squandered every one of them. Like I said: last-place team. Their first opportunity came when Adam Duvall tripled with one out in the second and Wilyer Abreu walked, but Gibson picked up a clutch strikeout of Trevor Story and then snared an Enmanuel Valdez line drive back up the box to escape the threat.
The Sox actually had three hits in the third but turned them into zero runs. Reese McGuire’s leadoff knock was erased on a double play, and then Rafael Devers and Justin Turner both singled, but Turner foolishly tried to steal second and Adley Rutschman cut him down for the final out. You don’t run on Adley Rutschman! Especially if you’re a 38-year-old who’s averaged only three steals a year in 15 seasons. (Weirdly, though, that was Turner’s first caught stealing since 2018; he’d been 13-for-13 since then.)
Gibson’s Houdini act continued all night. Just as they had in the third, the Red Sox led off with a single in both the fourth and fifth innings. None scored. Gibson capped his outing in the fifth by retiring Turner on a flyout to strand two more runners, and with five shaky but scoreless innings in the books, that wrapped up Gibson’s 2023 regular season. He finished with a 4.73 ERA in 192 innings over 33 starts. Not an ace by any means, but I’d say Gibson more than fulfilled the role of veteran mentor and innings-eater that the Orioles signed him to be. And his strong September performance might have earned him a spot in the Orioles’ Division Series rotation.
First out of the bullpen was a guy we haven’t seen in a while: Bruce Zimmermann. The Baltimore native was called up earlier in the day (with Jorge López designated for assignment) to pick up some innings this weekend while the usual relievers get rest. It was Zimmermann’s first major league appearance since July 4. Like Gibson, he worked his way out of some trouble, especially in his opening frame. Yoshida led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch — initially scored a passed ball, which would have been Rutschman’s first of the year, but later changed to keep his pristine record intact — and Zimmermann hunkered down to strike out Duvall and Abreu and induce a groundout from Story. He worked two scoreless innings.
The 0-0 tie continued into the bottom of the seventh, when at long last the Orioles offense broke through. With Crawford out of the game, Rutschman jumped on reliever Josh Winckowski for a leadoff single. He was replaced by pinch-runner Jorge Mateo, who stole second, because of course he did. Two strikeouts almost left him stranded, but Ryan Mountcastle delivered a big hit, lacing an RBI double down the right-field line to plate the game’s first run. The sellout crowd of 43,150 at Camden Yards finally got to go crazy, even moreso when Mountcastle scored on a Heston Kjerstad infield single that squirted out of the glove of the second baseman Valdez.
Under ordinary circumstances, Brandon Hyde would’ve turned his two-run, eighth-inning lead to one of his most trusted relievers. But right now is evaluation time to see which bubble relievers can make a case for the postseason roster, so in came Jack Flaherty. It was only his second outing since the O’s moved him to the bullpen, and his first in 11 days.
Flaherty didn’t exactly make a strong case for himself. His very first pitch drilled Turner in the back, and Duvall singled. Flaherty did get a couple of outs before Story dribbled a single up the middle, which would have tied the game if not for a nice diving stop by Jordan Westburg behind second base. The Sox were only able to score one run on the play, keeping the Birds’ 2-1 lead intact. Flaherty then struck out Ceddanne Rafaela to strand two.
Happily, the Orioles busted the game open in the home half of the eighth, starting with a Westburg single and Gunnar Henderson double off Mauricio Llovera to put two in scoring position. Mateo smacked a grounder to second and Valdez tried to cut down the runner at the plate, but Westburg made a nice slide to elude McGuire’s tag and score the third O’s run. After yet another Mateo steal, the slumping Anthony Santander found a much-needed hit, roping a two-run single to right to make it 5-1. It’d be nice to see Anthony start to get hot before the playoffs begin.
Jacob Webb took the ninth in a non-save situation and struggled a bit, giving up three singles to plate one Boston run and bring the possible tying run to the plate. But the right-hander fielded a Duvall comebacker for the final out, sealing win #101.
One-hundred one! This just in: this Orioles team is pretty good.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Saturday, September 30?
This poll is closed
Kyle Gibson (5 IP, 0 ER, escaped lots of jams)
Ryan Mountcastle (RBI double to break the ice)
Anthony Santander (two-run single to break it open)
Bruce Zimmermann (two scoreless innings, remember him?)