The Orioles welcomed the Yankees to Camden Yards on Friday for their final series of the season under vastly different circumstances than normal.
Baltimore is atop the American League East, while New York is in its cellar. Friday’s rain-delayed contest didn’t display the disparity between the clubs — that is, until Anthony Santander stepped to the plate in the ninth inning.
With the game scoreless, Santander sent the announced crowd of 34,558 home with a walk-off home run to right field. The switch-hitter clobbered a 2-0 changeup from Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle 425 feet for the Orioles’ fifth walk-off win of the season.
Santander celebrated the home run justly, standing near home plate to admire the blast, flipping his bat and and gesticulating towards the Orioles’ dugout.
“I put a good swing on it, and I said I got it,” Santander said. “I looked right to my teammates.”
They celebrated in kind, surrounding home plate and mobbing Santander as he crossed. He stopped short of the plate, flipped his helmet and did a little dance as Ryan McKenna and Austin Hays dumped a water and a Gatorade cooler on him.
“Oof, amazing,” Santander said when asked about how the bath felt. “The homer hose. That’s a big one right there.”
Before Santander’s solo shot — his second walk-off homer and third walk-off hit of his career — the AL East matchup was a pitcher’s duel between Orioles rookie Grayson Rodriguez and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. Both bullpens followed to keep the game scoreless until Santander’s 18th home run of the season.
Baltimore is 63-40 and remains 1 1/2 games up on the Tampa Bay Rays (63-43) atop the AL East. The Orioles are nine games ahead of the Yankees (54-49).
“We’ve been playing so many close games and being on the wrong side of a couple in Philadelphia, that hurt and then the off day yesterday,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Santander just a huge homer. … To win it like that, that was awesome.”
Rodriguez goes toe-to-toe with Cole
Pitching opposite Cole was nothing new for Rodriguez.
In more starts than not, the 23-year-old rookie has gone up against a top-line starting pitcher, including Jacob deGrom, Dylan Cease, Eduardo Rodriguez, Shohei Ohtani and Shane McClanahan.
On Friday, after a 2 hour, 32-minute rain delay, he matched Cole pitch for pitch, out for out, inning for inning. Both right-handers — the Yankees’ a six-time All-Star, the Orioles’ pitching in his 13th MLB game — held the opposing lineup to three hits.
“That was such an amazing, well-pitched game from both sides. Gerrit Cole was Gerrit Cole, which is so tough to hit, so good. So proud of Grayson,” Hyde said. “He’s just scratching the surface of what kind of starting pitcher he can be. He showed tonight what he has. It’s overpowering fastball, slider’s getting better and better, bad swings on his changeup, presence and command against a really tough lineup.”
There are several encouraging signs from Rodriguez’s start, but none more so than his strike total. Seventy of his 97 pitches — 72.2% — went for strikes. Nearly 60% of his pitches were fastballs, a pitch that generated eight swings and misses. He averaged 98.3 mph with the pitch, including topping 100 mph four times in the first two innings. Command and confidence in his fastball were the main improvements the Orioles wanted to see Rodriguez make when they optioned him to Triple-A in late May after he posted a 7.35 ERA in his first 10 starts.
“Credit to him and everybody that’s been working with him on getting back here,” Hyde said. “Going down there with a purpose and a plan and understanding why and adapting and making adjustments. I just love his delivery right now, the tempo in his delivery, just really, really competitive.”
Rodriguez’s efficiency is what allowed him to complete six innings — and pitch into the seventh — for the first time in his nascent big league career. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, escaped a jam in the fourth with a double play, stranded a base runner in the fifth and won an 11-pitch battle with No. 3 hitter Anthony Rizzo to end the sixth.
After allowing a one-out single to DJ LeMahieu, Rodriguez was pulled for newly acquired right-hander Shintaro Fujinami, who walked his first batter before inducing an inning-ending double play. Fujinami, who the Orioles acquired from the Oakland Athletics last week, struggled in his first two outings but has been effective in his past two.
The scoreless start was the third of Rodriguez’s career. In three starts since returning from Triple-A Norfolk, the 6-foot-5 righty has a 3.18 ERA, allowing 13 hits in 17 innings.
Yennier Cano, who blew a save in Tuesday’s loss, pitched an eighth inning that was saved by the Orioles’ defense. A few innings after third baseman Ramón Urías made a diving stop, right fielder Santander and second baseman Adam Frazier opened and closed the eighth with web gems of their own. Santander robbed Anthony Volpe of an extra-base hit to begin the inning, and after Cano walked Aaron Judge with two outs — the third time the Orioles issued a free pass to the reigning AL Most Valuable Player in his first game since June 3 — Frazier went full extension to steal an RBI hit away from Rizzo.
“Our defense has been phenomenal,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hands down the best in the league right now. Every night, there’s spectacular plays being made.”
Before Santander’s home run, the Orioles tallied just three hits and didn’t advance a runner into scoring position until the sixth inning. Closer Félix Bautista (6-1) gave Santander a chance to win it with two strikeouts in a scoreless ninth to lower his ERA to 0.90.
Despite the lengthy delay and the game going past midnight, Rodriguez and Santander appreciated the support from the home crowd.
“Honestly, right before the start of the game, it felt like a playoff game,” Santander said.
“Tonight was pretty special,” Rodriguez said. “Glad the O’s fans stayed. I knew it was a late one, but man was it exciting.”
Elias provides injury updates on Mullins, Means, Hall and others
Mike Elias began his pre-trade deadline news conference Friday with a bevy of updates about the seven Orioles on the injured list: center fielder Cedric Mullins (right adductor groin strain, 10-day IL), outfielder Aaron Hicks (left hamstring strain, 10-day), starting pitcher John Means (Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery recovery, 60-day), reliever Mychal Givens (right shoulder inflammation, 60-day), right-hander Dillon Tate (elbow flexor strain, 60-day), left-hander Keegan Akin (lower back discomfort, 15-day) and right-hander Austin Voth (elbow discomfort, 15-day).
Baltimore’s executive vice president and general manager said the “hope” for Mullins and Hicks is that they’ll play a “large bit of August” with the Orioles. The groin strain is Mullins’ second; he missed about a month the first time he was out, and Hicks filled in with aplomb after coming over from the Yankees.
Means, the Orioles’ opening day starter in 2021 and 2022, could begin his minor league rehabilitation assignment in the Florida Complex League in early August. Elias said early September is the goal for Means’ return to the majors, but in what role remains unclear.
“I think it’s going to depend on so much that I don’t have right now,” he said. “Obviously he’s a starting pitcher as far as a career standpoint and a skill standpoint, but the circumstances of the team and him will drive that decision.”
Givens and Akin are also on track to begin their rehab assignments in early August. Voth, who has pitched three times since beginning his assignment July 20, still has “a bit more” to go before he’ll be ready to return to the Orioles’ bullpen, if there’s space after the acquisition of Fujinami last week.
The only pitcher Elias didn’t have any sort of timeline on was Tate, who isn’t throwing yet as he’s managed a forearm injury all season and has yet to pitch in the majors. Elias said the Orioles “still have hopes” of Tate pitching for them before the end of the regular season.
Elias also provided an update on left-handed pitching prospect DL Hall, who last month went to the team’s facility in Sarasota, Florida, to focus on strength training and pitch less with the hope of getting his velocity back. He said Hall, who pitched in an FCL game Tuesday, is up a few ticks to the mid-90s mph range.
Like Means, Elias said the organization isn’t sure if they’ll build Hall up to be a starter again or if they’ll focus on shorter outings, perhaps to have him join the Orioles’ bullpen late in the season.
“I think he’s in a better spot than where he started and he’s very healthy and he’s also very fresh for the second half, so that might be nice,” Elias said.
Around the horn
- Friday was “Mo Gaba Day” at Camden Yards on the third anniversary of Gaba’s death. Gaba’s mother, Sonsy, threw out the first pitch, caught by former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.
- Jones also spent part of the contest in Section 86, known as the Bird Bath Splash Zone, as the first “guest splasher” of the season. The former center fielder had a custom City Connect jersey with “Capt Splash” on the back. He sprayed fans with water and pied Mr. Splash as Jones often did during postgame celebrations.
Yankees at Orioles
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
TV: Chs. 45, 5
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Source: Berkshire mont