BOWIE — The Bowie Baysox fell short of their goal of winning the Double-A Northeast League Championship Series against Akron. The RubberDucks won the best-of-five series, 3-0, but that doesn’t detract from the season Bowie had this year.
The Baysox finished 73-47 in the regular season, and manager Buck Britton did a solid job keeping several key players moving forward.
Britton’s season was recognized by the Orioles when he was awarded the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award.
After not qualifying for the finals in their first 22 seasons (1993-2014), the Baysox reached the championship series for a second consecutive year (2019 and 2021) and a third time in their last six years.
“The talent is there,” Britton said. “We’re very dynamic. We can run. That’s one of the things we take pride in, how we run the bases. Being aggressive, going first to third. Anticipating dirt-ball reads and trying to pick up 90 feet when we can.
“We walk so much. I’m so proud of these guys for buying in. Swing decisions are huge here. I think we had 500 walks and four teams had that and were over 400 in our league. That is eight teams that had less than 400 walks and we had 500. That is a big deal for us.”
A number of the team’s key prospects played for Bowie this season.
Some were around for the league championship, such as Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year Grayson Rodriguez, infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg. Others, such as organizational Co-Players of the Year, catcher Adley Rustchman and outfielder Kyle Stowers, and pitchers Mike Baumann and Kyle Bradish, were promoted to Triple-A Norfolk. Baumann even appeared in four games with the Orioles.
Bowie just fell short in the title series against Akron.
In Game 1, Westburg provided the only Baysox hit with a solo homer in a 5-1 loss. Akron pitcher Peyton Battenfield was dominant, finishing with 10 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings.
In Game 2, the Baysox were relying on Rodriguez to even the series but he stumbled out of the gate in an 8-5 loss. For just the second time in 23 starts, Rodriguez was charged with five or more runs with one walk and four strikeouts.
“Sometimes these are good moments for those types of guys,” Britton said. “You can feel Herculean, is that a word? You feel like you’re just better than everybody and sometimes when a team comes out and punches you in the mouth a little bit and brings you back down to earth … This is a special talent. One night is not going to dictate anything. Look at the course of what he’s done all year and it’s very special. Special arm coming to Baltimore.”
Rodriguez will get a chance to compete for a job with the Orioles in next year’s spring training, according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
“This year has been a really good year for me and my arm,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve not had any problems at all. Staying healthy is a really big deal. I really learned how to pitch.”
In the deciding third game, the Akron rallied from five runs down in the eighth inning to beat Bowie, 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth to win the Double-A Northeast League title.
Baysox starter Drew Rom threw five scoreless innings, but the bullpen could not hold the lead.
Britton has done a solid job preaching the team concept and the Baysox were a tight-knit group of players throughout the 2021 season. They just pressed at the end.
“We emphasize we don’t need a hero,” Britton said. “Pass the torch. But when you are struggling as an offense, somebody wants to be the guy to get it going, and that leads to chases. We’ve done a poor job of staying in the strike zone. Something we had done really well all season.”