WASHINGTON — Granted, the Orioles are only three weeks into the new season and it’s a little early to draw any sweeping conclusions about the true nature of what appears to be a very exciting and attractive team, but centerfielder Cedric Mullins gave us all a hint when he delivered a game-changing triple in Sunday’s big comeback victory over the Chicago White Sox.
We’re not talking about some garden variety extra-base hit, even though Mullins is a threat to cover 270 feet on just about any ball that gets by an outfielder. This one was off Dylan Cease, who finished second in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award last season, and it provided an emotional swing that made contact on several levels.
It wasn’t just the most important of the six hits he delivered over a weekend that snapped him out of a 4-for-37 slump, though that certainly worked on a personal level. It wasn’t just the impact the two runs it brought home had on a game – and a three-game series — the Orioles seemed destined to lose.
Pardon the dime-store psychoanalysis here, but that drive into the left-field gap probably made the biggest impression on rookie pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, who gave up four runs in another rocky first inning and needed the Orioles’ offense to come to his aid.
“I think what our offense has been able to do is give pitchers a trust in us that, if they might not have their best stuff that day, that we’ve still got a chance to come back and make something happen if we can stay in the game long enough,’’ Mullins said before Tuesday’s interleague series opener against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. “Grayson, settling down like he did, his stuff started coming alive after that first inning. He kept putting zeroes on the board and gave us a chance to chip away. That’s exactly what we did.”
Rodriguez has battled back from shaky starts in each of his first three big league games and had already slowed the White Sox roll with back-to-back scoreless innings before Mullins and the Orioles made it a one-run game in the fourth. But watching his teammates turn a four-run middle-inning deficit into an 8-4 victory against one of the game’s premier pitchers might just help him feel a little more comfortable when he takes the mound for his next outing this weekend.
Manager Brandon Hyde, during his pregame media briefing on Tuesday, could only marvel at how it all came together on a nasty afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I was so impressed with our toughness on Sunday,” he said. “Facing Dylan Cease. It’s 30 degrees out there. It’s mist in your face. It’s wind. It’s horrible conditions. We just gave up a four-spot in the first after sitting for 2 ½ hours in the clubhouse, and easily could have tried to pack it in a little bit … get on the plane. But we didn’t and Grayson helped with that.
“I think Grayson going out and getting four scoreless after that showed a lot of toughness also and made some good adjustments. And it’s just chipping away. I thought we had really good at-bats against Cease. That was a big character win for our guys.”
The Orioles delivered a number of similar performances last year, outlasting some top-quality starting pitchers with a surprisingly effective bullpen and a maturing young offensive lineup that ranked among the league’s top teams in late-inning runs.
“Our bullpen last year won us a lot of games by holding leads or keeping it right there and then allowing our offense to come back,” Hyde said. “I think that gives your offense confidence that we can come back off anybody. We’ve beaten some good closers, good back-end bullpens before and hopefully can carry that into this year.”
Mullins has been a big part of that the past couple of years, though in this case his biggest contribution came while Rodriguez was bouncing back with four scoreless innings on Sunday.
“I think what we do really well is having some of our best at-bats later in the game when those tag-on runs or those runs that we need to take the lead or tie the game,’’ Mullins said. “Those really come into play, so for us to have our best at-bats later is helping a lot.”