These 2022 Orioles really are built differently.
What if I told you the O’s went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position tonight, that they stranded 11 runners on base, that they put the leadoff man aboard in six of their eight innings and scored only one of them?
And what if I told you that they won the damn game anyway?
That’s what this team does. Even when the vibes of a game are all wrong, even when it seems like every mounting missed opportunity is going to come back to haunt them, the Orioles somehow find a way to win. In tonight’s case, a stellar pitching performance, led by Dean Kremer’s brilliant outing, rendered the Orioles’ clutchless offense entirely moot. Against all odds, they found a way to win, kicking off a three-game series against the Pirates with a 1-0 squeaker.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that it was always pleasant to sit through.
When Cedric Mullins — on his bobblehead night at Camden Yards — led off the Orioles’ first with a scorched double off the top of the right-field scoreboard, getting a joyous ovation from the large contingent of O’s fans who stuck through a nearly two- hour rain delay, it seemed like this was going to be a special night. That anticipation only grew when Adley Rutschman drew a walk from Pirates starter Mitch Keller.
Instead, the tone immediately turned frustrating. Anthony Santander’s shallow fly to center failed to advance any runners, and even after Mullins and Rutschman pulled off a double steal to put two in scoring position, the rally fizzled on the next pitch. Ryan Mountcastle smoked a sharp liner but directly to drawn-in shortstop Oneil Cruz, who caught Mullins breaking too far off third base and doubled him off.
OK, maybe that was bad luck. But the next four innings’ worth of failed opportunities fell squarely on Orioles hitters’ shoulders. Terrin Vavra led off the second with a single, only for the next three batters to hit harmless pop flies. In the third, Brett Phillips — making his first appearance as an Oriole at Camden Yards — quickly endeared himself to the crowd by lacing a leadoff hit to medium-shallow right and excitedly hustling it into a double. Nice hit! Yet he too was left stranded on a trio of groundouts.
The bottom of the fourth brought yet more anguish. Just like the first inning, the O’s put the first two runners aboard, this time on a single and an error. And once again, nothing became of it, as Ramón Urías grounded into a double play and Rougned Odor bounced out to short. At that point, the O’s were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They’d put the leadoff man aboard in each of the first four innings — and twice, the first two runners aboard — and statistically, they should have been expected to score at least five runs given those situations. Instead, they had zero. Quite a difference! Keller was working some kind of witchcraft, apparently.
Dean Kremer, fortunately, didn’t get discouraged by his lack of running support. The Orioles starter was simply masterful tonight, putting up zeroes inning after inning with no margin for error. He really only had one inning he had to sweat through, a top of the second in which a pair of singles put Pirates on the corners with one out. But Kremer took a page out of Keller’s book and Houdini’d himself out of the jam, inducing an inning-ending double play from Cal Mitchell.
From there, Kremer cruised. Just call him “Scurvy” for the way he was setting down Pirates tonight. Starting with the Mitchell double play, Kremer retired 13 consecutive batters, and he made quick work of it, too — an 11-pitch third inning, eight pitches in the fourth, eight more in the fifth. His sixth inning, too, was perfect, as he won an eight-pitch battle with Bryan Reynolds to end the frame.
Finally, in the bottom of the sixth, the O’s broke through. For the fifth time, they put their leadoff man aboard, this time on a Santander double. When Mountcastle grounded out to third on a 3-0 pitch, it looked like the Orioles were on their way to coming up empty again. But Vavra smoked a single that deflected off Keller, moving Santander to third, and an Urías chopper managed to bounce over the head of the drawn-in third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes for an RBI single. It wasn’t pretty, but the Orioles would gladly take it, especially on this night. The Camden Yards crowd, at last, had something to cheer for. (The O’s, naturally, stranded the remaining two runners.)
Staked to a lead for the first time, Kremer returned for the seventh and retired the leadoff man for his 13th out in a row before Hayes ended the streak with a double. Although Kremer’s pitch count was a manageable 83, Brandon Hyde elected to turn to his stellar bullpen, calling on southpaw Cionel Pérez to face the towering, lefty-swinging Cruz. Pérez did his usual fantastic job, fanning Cruz and getting Kevin Newman to ground out to strand Kremer’s baserunner and seal his pitching line at 6.1 scoreless innings. After a brutal July, it’s nice to see Kremer start off his August on the right foot. Can’t get much better than that.
The Orioles’ offense again wasted numerous opportunities to pad their lead, especially in the eighth, when they loaded the bases with one out but came up empty once more. It was a shockingly bad performance from almost every O’s hitter who came up in a run-scoring situation on this night. You could be forgiven for assuming that the Orioles would come to regret not scoring more runs when they had the chance, that the game would take a turn for the worse.
And yet, it didn’t, as the Birds’ bullpen held strong. Pérez worked a scoreless eighth, presenting the Orioles with their first ninth-inning save situation since trading Jorge López four days ago. As expected, it was The Mountain, Félix Bautista, who got the call as the new closer.
Bautista didn’t exactly breeze through the ninth. But he got the job done (while López, at nearly the same time, blew a save for the Twins against the Blue Jays). The Pirates made The Mountain work, with Ben Gamel poking a one-out single and Hayes winning a fantastic at-bat, fouling off three straight 100-mph, two-strike pitches to work a walk. With the tying and go-ahead runs on base, though, Bautista buckled down. He fanned Cruz on a nasty splitter, then ran up Newman on a called strike three. Ball game over.
Had it all the way.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Friday, August 5?
Dean Kremer (6.1 scoreless innings, retired 13 in a row)
Cionel Pérez (1.2 great innings of relief)
Félix Bautista (first save as O’s new closer)
Terrin Vavra (3-for-4, has reached base in 9 of last 10 PAs)
476 total votes