It took ten innings to settle things, but the Orioles were able to pick up a 4-3 walkoff win and split their four-game set with New York.
The Yankees arrived in Baltimore in last place and will be leaving Baltimore after playing four games still in last place. After a couple of dismal outings by the offense, the Orioles were able to do just enough, combined with pitching that was just good enough, to pull off a split of the series with a 10-inning, 4-3 win on Thursday afternoon.
This was not the sort of game where you might look at the box score and think that the Orioles were the team that “should” have won. The Orioles were out-hit by the Yankees in the game, picking up just seven hits over the game’s ten innings. Players whose name is not Trey Mancini mustered just four hits.
The Orioles starting pitcher, Jorge López, failed to record an out in the fifth inning. Their closer, César Valdez, failed to defend a one-run lead after walking two batters and eventually giving up a two-run ground rule double, the kind of double that’s lucky for the defending team because the trail runner who would have easily scored if the ball remained in play is not allowed to score.
And yet, when the dust settled, the Orioles were the winning team. Did they deserve to win? No. As charged in the bylaws of Baltimore sports writing, I must take this chance to quote The Wire: Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. It was their time, is all.
The day’s excitement all came down to the tenth inning. Between last year and this one, we’ve had plenty of time to get used to the extra innings ghost runner. Is it an innovation or an abomination? Maybe a little of both. Like it or not, it’s the rule and it’s the same for everyone. A team that gives up the run to the ghost runner but fails to score its own ghost runner has no one but themselves to blame.
In the top of the tenth, the Yankees leadoff batter Tyler Wade opted to try to deploy the strategy of bunting the runner to third base, so the go-ahead run would be at third base with one out. Wade’s problem is he chose this course of action against hard-throwing Tanner Scott, and after bunting an 0-1 pitch foul, he bunted again on a 1-2 pitch and that also went foul. It is unlikely you have made a worse choice today.
Scott quickly got a second out as Aaron Hicks bounced the first pitch he saw back to Scott, then Scott made Mike Ford look more like Mike (your least favorite car brand) with a series of sliders that culminated in Ford striking out swinging. You had a runner on second and you couldn’t score him! How sad.
Temporary injury replacement Pat Valaika led off the bottom of the inning with his own bunt attempt. It was a success for the Birds #9 batter, moving ghost runner Ramón Urías to third base with one out. Anyone keeping to the teachings of Earl Weaver may have been screaming. Giving up one of your precious outs is always a gamble and when it doesn’t work out, you can look like a big idiot. The Orioles had already managed to sadly blow a chance to add a run with a man on third and no one out earlier in the game.
The thing about Valaika putting down the bunt is that it meant the lineup was turning over for Cedric Mullins. You might have heard how he’s been pretty good this year. Mullins took a fastball down the middle before floating a changeup to left-center field. Hicks, the center fielder, caught the ball not too deep. In this recapper’s household there were unison agonized cries, “No! Don’t go!”
Urías went. The outcome I expected was a laser strike home with Urías being tagged out. Instead, Hicks’s throw went about 30 feet up the line. The run scored. Orioles win!
The walkoff sacrifice fly was made even more anticlimactic when the Yankees, feeble last place losers that they are, availed themselves of a final desperate opportunity to change the outcome by asking for a challenge of the play, claiming that Urías left third base early. You never really know what’s going to happen when the distant, capricious, possibly vision- or attention-challenged umpires get a hold of a play, so you always have to hold your breath.
In this case, the confirmation quickly came: The Yankees were losers. This fact is true every day regardless of the outcome of a given game, obviously, but there is extra satisfaction when they are losers who lost the game. The Orioles did not have to take back the walkoff celebration. In a way, they got to walk off the same game twice. It does not count as two wins.
There could have easily been a different story of this game. López’s latest fifth-inning problem could have been worse for the Orioles. Manager Brandon Hyde was quick to yank López when the first two Yankees reached base against him. Eleven of the sixteen batters López has faced this season have gotten on base. It’s going to be tough to keep him in the rotation if that continues.
The O’s summoned unlikely high-leverage reliever Adam Plutko in to handle the jam. Giancarlo Stanton blooped in a single to load the bases. Plutko got two outs and was on the cusp of getting out of it. However, he left the wrong pitch in the wrong place to the Bautista puncher, Rougned Odor, who ripped a line drive through the shift to score the two inherited runners.
This gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. The O’s had gotten on the board in the first inning after Mullins led off with a single, advanced as Austin Hays attempted to bunt for a hit, then scored on a Trey Mancini single. Plutko ended up with a 2.1 inning stint with none of his own runners scoring. That kept the O’s in the game, a chance they took as Mancini delivered his team-leading fifth homer of the season to tie the game 2-2 in the fifth inning.
Mullins was close to being the game’s hero in the eighth inning. He walked to lead off the frame, then motored around to score from first when Hays hit a double. A poorly-corralled throw home let Hays end up on third base with none out. The Orioles 3-4-5 hitters could not bring him home with an insurance run. That proved significant when the Yankees tied the game in the ninth, but you know, all’s well that ends well.
The Orioles and Yankees are tied at 11-14 on the season. That’s a 71-win pace over a full season. I’d happily take that from the 2021 Orioles, and even more happily take it from the Yankees of any 162-game season.
It’s off to Oakland for the O’s now to face the still-first-place Athletics. It’s going to be a late night if you’re on the east coast staying up to watch them, as the opener gets under way at 9:40. John Means is set to start for the O’s, with Mike Fiers making his season debut for Oakland.