The Orioles threw everything they had at the Toronto Blue Jays in their 15-inning, series-opening marathon Monday night. But the game ultimately ended with a sight that’s all too familiar to the Orioles pitching staff: with an opposing batter making a home run trot around the bases.
Anthony Alford’s walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the 15th ended a five-hour, 25-minute roller coaster in which the Orioles rallied back from a five-run deficit, then blew leads in the seventh, ninth and 12th innings.
The Orioles couldn’t overcome their mistakes, starting with the home run ball.
Since August 22, when the Orioles set a major league record for home runs allowed in a season (259), the pitching staff had done a slightly better job at keeping the long balls in check. They hadn’t allowed more than three home runs in a game since August 12, and only three times in their last 37 games had they given up more than two. They entered Monday’s game on pace to allow 305 this year, down significantly from the 330 they were projected to give up as of August 22.
At Rogers Centre, though, the home run bug bit the Orioles’ staff again. Right-hander Chandler Shepherd, making his second major league start, was roughed up for three home runs in his three innings of work, including Randal Grichuk’s seventh against the Orioles this year.
In the seventh, reliever Paul Fry served up the fourth Blue Jays blast, a game-tying Cavan Biggio drive to right. It took another eight innings for Toronto’s fifth and final home run, Alford’s decisive shot against Ryan Eades.
It wasn’t just homers that hurt Orioles pitchers; they also got themselves in trouble by allowing free baserunners. A walk to Biggio preceded Grichuk’s first-inning, three-run homer. In the third, Grichuk was hit by a pitch to start the inning and later came around to score. And the costliest free pass was issued by Shawn Armstrong, who attempted to close out a two-run game in the ninth but put himself in an immediate jam by hitting leadoff man Jonathan Davis with a pitch. That sparked a two-run rally that sent the game to extras.
After the Orioles regained the lead in the 12th on Chris Davis’ solo homer, they allowed the Blue Jays to knot the score in the bottom half without the benefit of a hit. Third baseman Rio Ruiz threw the ball away on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s grounder, and David Hess hit a batter and walked another to push the tying run to third, where he scored on a sacrifice fly.
The Orioles’ bullpen did a solid job overall, giving up four earned runs in 11 2/3 innings after Shepherd’s abbreviated start, but had trouble keeping the ball in the strike zone — and in the ballpark — when it mattered.
Hays shines again
The Orioles haven’t yet anointed Austin Hays as their everyday centerfielder for 2020. But right now, there seems to be no stopping him.
The 24-year-old rookie took his breakout September to new heights with his finest game as a major leaguer, bashing two home runs and collecting a career-best five RBIs in the Orioles’ losing effort.
Hays’ first home run, a three-run shot off veteran Clay Buchholz in the third, helped erase a sizable chunk of the Orioles’ early 5-0 deficit. In the fifth, he lifted an opposite-field blast to right field, going back-to-back with Jonathan Villar, to whittle the Blue Jays’ advantage to one. Ruiz’s two-run homer later in the inning gave the Orioles their first lead.
In the eighth, Hays tapped a two-out, RBI single up the middle to extend the Orioles’ edge to 9-7.
Hays also continued to impress defensively. In the third inning, he notched his first career outfield assist, throwing out Guerrero Jr. attempting to stretch a single into a double. Three innings later, Hays made a nice running catch coming toward the infield, securing the third out to strand a pair of Blue Jays baserunners.
Earlier in the day, Hays won Play of the Week honors for his leaping catch to rob Guerrero Jr. of a home run in Baltimore last Thursday. It was one of two Hays catches nominated for Play of the Week, the other being his ninth-inning diving snare of a sinking liner hit by Seattle’s Omar Narvaez on Friday.
Hays has been a revelation since the Orioles recalled him from Triple-A Norfolk on September 7, his first big league appearance in two years. He’s hitting .314 with a .991 OPS, four home runs and 12 RBIs.
He’s also provided stability to the center field position, which has been a revolving door for the Orioles all year long. Opening Day starter Cedric Mullins had just six hits in 64 at-bats before getting sent to the minors in April. Joey Rickard and Keon Broxton flamed out in brief tryouts before they were sent packing. Stevie Wilkerson (57 starts in center) isn’t an outfielder by trade, and Anthony Santander (20 starts) is more suited for a corner spot. Hays is considered the front-runner for the center field job next year, and his September performance is strengthening his case.
Hays may be leading a new generation of youngsters who could make up the core of the next contending Orioles team. In 2020, he’ll likely be joined in the club’s everyday lineup by Ryan Mountcastle, the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year this season. By 2021, top prospect Adley Rutschman could join the fold, with pitching prospects DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez also on the horizon.
Hays, in just 16 major league games this year, has become one of the Orioles’ best stories of the season. And he’s giving Orioles fans a glimpse of a promising future in Baltimore.
A case of the Mondays
Not since Garfield has anyone been as miserable on Mondays as the 2019 Orioles.
The Orioles’ loss to Toronto was their 11th straight Monday loss. They haven’t won a game on a Monday since Memorial Day, May 27, against the Detroit Tigers. Overall, they’re 5-14 (.263 winning percentage) on Mondays this year.
Still, that’s not their worst record on a particular day of the week. They’re 6-18 (.250) on Wednesdays, and 2-13 (.133) on Thursdays. Their only two Thursday victories this year came on April 18 and July 25.
The Orioles’ most successful day has been Saturday, where they’re 12-16 (.429).
Mancini earns weekly honors
Hays wasn’t the only Oriole honored by Major League Baseball this week.
Trey Mancini’s recent surge at the plate was recognized Monday, when he was named the American League Player of the Week for the period ending September 22.
Mancini hit .462 (12-for-26) in six games, with half of his hits going for extra bases. He hit two home runs and collected 10 RBIs. He also scored his 100th run of the season Wednesday, joining Villar (106) as the first pair of Oriole teammates with 100 or more runs since Davis and Manny Machado in 2015.
Mancini’s bat has been red-hot in September. Entering Monday, he was hitting .354 with a 1.025 OPS, five home runs and 19 RBIs, and had hits in 18 of his 19 starts, including multi-hit games in six of his last nine.
On Friday, Mancini was named the 2019 Most Valuable Oriole, as voted on by members of the local media. He’s batting .286 with an .888 OPS, 34 home runs and 93 RBIs this year.
This was Mancini’s first career Player of the Week award. It was the first for any Oriole since Jonathan Schoop last July 30, the day before he was traded to Milwaukee.