Amid the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game at Camden Yards, Anthony Santander told Austin Hays not to worry about getting ready to hit. The inning, Santander said, would not get past Ryan McKenna.
He proved prophetic when McKenna, in his first at-bat Saturday afternoon after replacing Santander in right field an inning earlier, launched a walk-off, two-run home run to give the Orioles a 6-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
“I called it,” Santander said proudly. “He’s an animal off the bench. That’s awesome. I’m so happy for him. He’s been ready all game. He really pays attention to the game. When his opportunity comes, he’s ready, and I’m so happy he hit that homer for us right there.”
A reserve outfielder typically used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Santander, McKenna’s home run came in his 13th plate appearance of June, having appeared in 15 of Baltimore’s games. It marked the first walk-off home run by an Oriole who began a game on the bench since Rougned Odor’s game-ender May 20, 2022, a day before Adley Rutschman’s major league debut.
“It’s awesome,” McKenna said. “Stuff you try to visualize, try to be prepared for that moment. … Real definitely trumps.”
It took a series of events Saturday for McKenna to be standing in the batter’s box, many of which did not go the Orioles’ way.
In his first game off the injured list, Cedric Mullins was set to start in center field. But with rain passing through Baltimore before the game, manager Brandon Hyde tweaked his defensive positioning. Mullins went to designated hitter, Aaron Hicks slid from right to center, and Santander went out to right after originally being DH.
That changed alignment meant that as the Orioles (46-29) brought a one-run lead into the ninth, Hyde sent McKenna out to right in place of Santander, whose four-hit day included his fourth home run in five games. The arrangement has been common, with McKenna serving as a trusted late-game replacement over the past two seasons.
“When you’re with him every day, you really appreciate how much energy he brings to our team,” Hyde said. “Just the kind of person he is is phenomenal. He’s a really good athlete, a great athlete, that has helped us the last couple years in a lot of ways. So fun to watch him get this moment today, and he’s earned it.”
It seemed doubtful McKenna would receive a trip to the plate after closer Félix Bautista retired the first two Mariners (37-38) in the ninth, but Mike Ford launched the first pitch he saw from the hard-throwing right-hander deep to right-center for his second home run of the day.
Baltimore wasted a chance in the bottom of the ninth when pinch-runner Jorge Mateo was doubled off first on Mullins’ popup behind home plate, one of four outs the Orioles made on the bases Saturday. But the miscue meant that after Mike Baumann stranded the Mariners’ automatic runner in the top of the 10th, Mullins served as Baltimore’s, scoring in front of McKenna in his first game after missing the past 20.
McKenna was viewed as a possible replacement when Mullins suffered a right groin strain May 29, but the club instead signed veteran Aaron Hicks, who has a .984 OPS for Baltimore after being released by the New York Yankees. His fourth home run for the Orioles came in the sixth inning and broke a deadlock created by right-hander Dean Kremer surrendering three solo shots over seven otherwise strong innings, his longest outing of the season.
Kremer retired the first seven Mariners before Ford lofted a homer to right field. After a groundout, J.P. Crawford lined a ball off the railing above the right field wall, initially racing to third for a triple before umpires ruled the drive a home run.
The Orioles answered on Santander’s home run in the bottom half of the third and took a 3-2 lead two innings later on Santander’s RBI single. As was the case when Adam Frazier drove in Gunnar Henderson in the second inning, the Orioles made an out on the bases while scoring, with Santander thrown out trying to take second.
Kremer then allowed a laser to left-center by reigning American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez to even the score in the sixth. Kremer has surrendered 17 home runs this year, two shy of the most in the majors, in 88 innings after giving up 11 in 125 1/3 frames in 2022. Through 16 starts, he has a 4.50 ERA, with a 3.39 mark in 10 outings since the end of April.
The Orioles nearly added insurance in the seventh thanks to Ryan O’Hearn, who like Hicks is a castoff from another organization who has taken off with Baltimore. But Rodríguez made a leaping catch at the wall in left-center to deny him a two-run home run.
The play proved vital in the ninth. After Yennier Cano and Danny Coulombe combined for a scoreless eighth, with Coulombe getting an inning-ending groundout on his only pitch, Bautista retired the first two Mariners before Ford ambushed a first-pitch fastball and evened the score.
In the end, Seattle’s fourth home run simply set the stage for McKenna’s heroics. In a 13-1 blowout defeat the night before, McKenna faced Seattle right-hander Justin Topa as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. He said the at-bat showed him what to look for when he faced him again Saturday, when he sent a fastball down the middle out to right-center field.
“He’s a good guy to have come in late in ballgames, make plenty of good catches and kind of be a catalyst,” Kremer said. “He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes, in the dugout, as far as picking up guys over the course of the game. He’s a big part of this team.”
A Gatorade bath and water shower awaited him at home plate. Amid the bedlam, he took a quick slurp from the Orioles’ homer hose.
“We’re just never out of it,” McKenna said. “Our mentality is always we’re going to win, and it’s not over until the last pitch.”
Saturday, he turned it into an emphatic finish.
Mariners at Orioles
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Source: Berkshire mont