The Orioles apparently caught the Cincinnati Reds at just the right time, a couple of tough losses removed from the 12-game winning streak that vaulted them into first place in the National League’s Central division.
The Atlanta Braves had already rained on that parade over the weekend and a night of crappy mid-Atlantic weather only made things worse. The Orioles danced around a 104-minute rain delay and knocked them down a notch with a rare 10-3 laugher.
The big story all day was 24-year-old rookie Jordan Westburg, who was called up and immediately inserted into the starting lineup at second base for his major league debut. He said before the game that he just wanted to find a way to contribute to the Orioles’ success, and he found a bunch of them.
He was all over the place on this strange night, and ended up registering his first major league hit, run and RBI and made a slick defensive play in his team’s 12-hit performance against a club that has been the talk of the sport for the past few weeks.
Westburg probably would like to have done something more heroic in his first major league plate appearance, but he made an important contribution without putting a ball in play. He dueled Reds starter Brandon Williamson for seven pitches and drew a two-out walk in the second inning, which didn’t seem like a big deal until Williamson went on to walk the bases loaded and give up a two-run single to Austin Hays.
He would not come up again for about two hours because of the long rain delay, but when he did, the bases were already loaded and he delivered again, this time by beating out a potential double play ball that would lead to two more Orioles runs. He got credit for one RBI on the fielder’s choice and the O’s scored a second run when the relay from second baseman Jonathan India skipped past first base for an error.
He still wasn’t done. In the fifth, he teamed up with Jorge Mateo on a highlight-reel play to rob Reds first baseman Kevin Newman a hit with a runner at first and one out. Westberg streaked behind second base to grab Newman’s sharp bouncer and then flipped it out of his glove to Mateo who got the force at second and did a pirouette to fire the ball to first. The relay was late by a millisecond, but that didn’t rob the play of its aesthetic value.
Wait! There’s more. Westburg came up for his third plate appearance in the fifth inning and stroked his first major league hit. It was not exactly a bullet, but it’ll be a sizzling line drive when he tells his grandkids about it.
“I thought he played a nice game,’’ manager Brandon Hyde said. “Really nice defensive play there up the middle. Nice to see a guy make his debut. He got to put the ball in play and got a couple runs out of making contact and got his first big-league hit, so I’m sure it was fun for him and his family tonight.”
Westburg conceded after the game that it was something of a surreal experience, walking to the plate for the first time with much of the water-logged crowd on its feet and listening to chants of “Westy, Westy” every time he was at the plate or involved in a play.
“Pretty crazy, honestly,” he said. “It felt like something out of a movie or something you dream. Huge raindrops falling, just trying to focus on picking up the baseball. It was kind of crazy.”
He had an instant fan club comprised of dozens of friends and family members and a few thousand new friends welcoming him to Baltimore.
“It hit me pretty close to my heart,’’ he said.
The game did not begin well for Orioles starter Cole Irvin, who gave up three hits and a run in the first inning, but he had retired seven hitters in a row when the clouds opened up during the third inning. He did not come back after the delay and reliever Bruce Williamson was credited with his first victory of the season for a three-inning performance in which he allowed two runs on four hits. Three O’s pitchers combined to hold the Reds hitless the rest of the way.
“I thought Cole was better tonight,” Hyde said. “It was unfortunate his outing got cut short. After the middle ball early in the first inning, I thought he was really good after that. He pitched to the corners much better. I thought he changed speeds well. Got in on right-handers with the cutter and four-seamer. Like I said, it was too bad he only got through three there with the rain. But I thought Bruce Zimmermann did a nice job. Only one mistake. Picked us up with three good innings.”
Though the focus was on Westburg, the Orioles delivered a strong all-around offensive attack with five multi-hit performances. Cedric Mullins, in particular, looked like he was back in a groove after spending time on the injured list, delivering a big sacrifice fly and a couple of hits.
“Nice to see Ced, big sac fly there as well a line drive into right center,’’ Hyde said. “So really good at-bats by Ced. It’s great to have him back in the lineup.”