SAN FRANCISCO—The Baltimore Orioles have the top minor league organization with scores of well-regarded prospects. Despite all those top-shelf players in the minor leagues, the Orioles still have room for role players with good stories and ability.
Eight years after being drafted, Josh Lester finally got his first major league hit and two RBIs, key runs in a six-run third inning that gave the Orioles an 8-3 win over the San Francisco Giants before an announced crowd of 35,571 at Oracle Park on Sunday.
The 28-year-old Lester, who had five hitless at-bats with Detroit last season, was signed as a minor league free agent in December and after an impressive spring training and excellent stint at Triple-A Norfolk, was added to the roster on Saturday.
Lester’s addition may be brief. He’s replacing reliever Danny Coulombe, who’s on the bereavement list and should return on Tuesday when the Orioles open a series in Milwaukee.
The Orioles like Lester’s versatility. He can play first or third base, left or right field, and filled in at third for Gunnar Henderson, who was out with a sore lower back.
“Somebody that’s never been on a top prospect list, somebody that was drafted in the 13th round,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “You look around the big leagues, there’s a lot of guys like him. His story is a great one … big hit to give us a little breathing room.”
Lester’s single scored Austin Hays and Aaron Hicks. A third run scored on centerfielder Austin Slater’s errant throw that allowed Ryan Mountcastle to score.
“It’s something I’ve looked forward to for my entire life, since I was 5 years old playing baseball,” Lester said. “For it to come in a big moment of the game with some guys on was even better.”
Lester has the ball for a souvenir, but the emotions of the moment were difficult for him to describe.
“I think I might have blacked out a little bit. Just a surreal moment,” Lester said. “I spent a long time in the minor leagues and a little bit of last year in the big leagues, but getting that first hit was just a huge moment.”
Lester acknowledged that the years he spent toiling in obscurity allowed doubts to surface.
“I’d be lying if I said no,” he said. “But obviously I’m confident in my abilities and my chances to come back and get a hit, but obviously it’s a big weight off your shoulders and a smile on your face when it does come.
“No matter how much you’re in the minor leagues … getting to the big leagues and getting that first hit is everybody’s dream. Spending that much time in the minor leagues and grinding your way up, it definitely means a lot to me.”
After losing consecutive series at home, their first two of the season, the Orioles rebounded by taking two of three games against the Giants.
It was just the Orioles’ seventh game decided by five or more runs, and they’ve won four by five runs. It was also the 13th series won by the Orioles this season.
“This is a tough place to win a road series,” Hyde said.
The Orioles (37-22) scored six runs in the third against Giants starter Anthony DeSclafini (4-5). It was their second-biggest inning of the season.
Adam Frazier’s sacrifice fly, Hays’ run-scoring single and Mountcastle’s bases-loaded walk accounted for the other RBIs as the Orioles sent 11 batters to the plate.
James McCann, who was hit in the left hand in the third, homered in the sixth, his third of the season, against Jakob Junis.
Oriole starter Tyler Wells (4-2) was lifted after allowing Brent Sabol’s two-run home run in the sixth. Wells allowed two runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings, striking out nine, a career high.
“Too bad he couldn’t get through the sixth,” Hyde said. “He had so many strikeouts and foul balls that he was throwing a lot of pitches.”
Wells leads MLB with an 0.85 WHIP and a .224 opponent on-base percentage, and the Orioles are 20-10 on the road.
“I think we’ve been really scrappy and done a great job battling,” Wells said. “As we continue to go on throughout the season, if we continue to refine the things that we’ve been really good at and just continually work on the things that we haven’t been great at, I think it’s always going to be a work in progress, and I think eventually by the end of the season, you’re going to see a lot of work come to play.”
Mike Baumann retired five straight in relief of Wells before walking LaMonte Wade Jr. to begin the eighth. J.D. Davis’ double against Yennier Cano sent Wade to third. He scored on Wilmer Flores’ fielder’s choice. Third baseman Ramón Urías started a double play on Sabol’s grounder to end the eighth.
Hicks’ RBI triple gave the Orioles their 8-3 lead.
Notes: Jorge Mateo had two hits, his first multi-hit game since April 27th. … Hays was named as the Fielding Bible’s Co-Defensive Player of the Month for May. Hays led the majors with 10 Defensive Runs Saved. He was tied with Toronto’s Kevin Kiermaier for the award by Sports Info Solutions. … Kyle Gibson (7-3, 3.89) will face Freddy Peralta (5-5, 4.62) when the Orioles open a series in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. Hyde hasn’t decided on his pitchers for Wednesday and Thursday.