Game of the year? Game of the year.
About seven innings deep into tonight’s Orioles game, I stared at my computer screen and lamented, There just isn’t anything to say about this snoozefest.
An inning and a half later, I could barely collect my thoughts about all the absolute hysteria we’d just witnessed. I still can’t. Can anyone?
“The Orioles WIN!” squeaked MASN broadcaster Kevin Brown with incredulity as the final out was recorded. “How did they do it??”
That’s a good question. And it’s got a long, but wonderful, answer.
You guys, the Orioles had absolutely no business winning this game. When the bottom of the eighth inning began, the O’s were trailing, 5-0, after an ineffective Matt Harvey outing. Their win probability was 2.2 percent. Two point two. They’d looked completely lifeless all night, especially offensively, as Royals starter Mike Minor had blanked them for six innings. The back end of the Royals’ bullpen needed only six outs and had a huge margin for error. The Orioles, for all intents and purposes, were dead.
And then, suddenly, they weren’t. Twelve batters, three pitchers, and nearly 70 pitches later, the Orioles had turned the game completely on its head, celebrating their most prolific run-scoring inning of the season with a frenzied, chaotic rally.
What an inning. What a game. What a win.
That bottom of the eighth inning began innocently enough, with Cedric Mullins drawing a leadoff walk from reliever Joel Payamps, who’d struck out all three batters he faced in the seventh. OK, a leadoff walk isn’t great for a pitcher, but with a five-run lead, it shouldn’t be a huge deal. Unless, of course, you can’t get anyone else out.
Payamps couldn’t get anyone else out. Ryan Mountcastle lashed a single, and Austin Hays roped a double to right-center that plated Mullins with the Orioles’ first run. For the first time, a bit of excitement rose in the crowd of 4,965 at Camden Yards, the lowest attendance in ballpark history for a full-capacity game. The Orioles’ win probability had climbed a bit to a still-low 15.9 percent.
Royals manager Mike Matheny pulled Payamps in favor of hard-throwing righty Josh Staumont. That’s when the Orioles caught two big breaks. The first came when home plate ump Sean Barber failed to ring up Pedro Severino on a 3-2 pitch that seemed to catch the outside corner, instead calling it ball four. The next came when third baseman Adalberto Mondesi flailed at a catchable Anthony Santander popup in foul territory, giving Santander new life to rip an RBI single on the next pitch. Mountcastle scored to make it a 5-2 game. That win probability was up to 35.8 percent, but even with the bases loaded and nobody out, the odds were against the Orioles completing the comeback.
To quote Han Solo: Never tell me the odds.
The Orioles just kept charging. Staumont got a big first out on a DJ Stewart popup, but up stepped the noticeably hobbling Ramon Urias, who hadn’t played in three days while nursing a leg injury. On a 2-2 pitch, Staumont hung a curveball that Urias swatted the opposite way for a single, plating Hays and moving everyone else up a station. Don’t look now, but it’s 5-3. Is this really going to happen?
It’s really going to happen.
A visibly frustrated Matheny made his second pitching change of the inning, hoping lefty Jake Brentz could clean up the mess. Nope! After ringing up Jahmai Jones for the second out, Brentz fell behind Kelvin Gutierrez 3-1. The Orioles’ #9 hitter, who entered the night batting just .164 for the Birds, came through with one of the biggest hits of his life against the team that dumped him earlier this season, lashing a clean single to center field. Severino scores! Santander scores! And it’s all tied up! They did it!
If the inning had stopped right there, that alone would have been an epic rally. And in fact the inning should have stopped right there, except for the absolute hilarity that unfolded on the next play.
Mullins, batting for the second time in the inning, lofted a lazy fly ball to right field. The expected batting average was .020. It was a can of corn. As routine as a catch can get. And right fielder Hunter Dozier drifted over to it, ready to squeeze the third out.
But inexplicably, center fielder Edward Olivares came racing over from a mile away, even as Dozier clearly called for the ball. Olivares tried to get out of the way but appeared to clip Dozier’s leg, or at least distract him, which caused Dozier to drop the ball. He just flat-out dropped it! The O’s went crazy in the dugout as the ball fell to the grass, with both Urias and Gutierrez streaming around to score. The Orioles, amazingly, had taken a 7-5 lead as the Royals’ total meltdown continued.
The next batter, Mountcastle, added the cherry on top by crushing a two-run homer off the utterly demoralized Brentz. It capped off a ludicrous nine-run eighth inning that featured six hits, two walks, and one game-changing error.
These Orioles can be fun every once in a while, huh?
Because nothing ever comes easy, though, the O’s still had to sweat things out in the ninth. An ineffective Dillon Tate plunked a batter, allowed an infield single, and then — one strike away from victory — coughed up a three-run homer onto the flag court by Andrew Benintendi, suddenly making it a one-run game again (and making Mountcastle’s insurance home run loom extra important).
No matter. Closer Tyler Wells came in, threw two pitches, and retired Carlos Santana on a grounder to short to seal the victory.
I haven’t even mentioned one of the best tidbits of this outstanding win. The winning pitcher was none other than 32-year-old rookie Manny Barreda, who made his major league debut in the top of the eighth, culminating a 14-year odyssey in professional baseball that had taken him through four MLB organizations, nine years in Mexico, and 490 pro appearances before taking a big league mound for the first time. Barreda threw a perfect eighth inning in what was, at the time, a mop-up appearance.
It became anything but, thanks to one magical bottom of the eighth. Orioles win, 9-8.