BALTIMORE—The Orioles returned from a successful road trip and began a seven-game homestand that will conclude with four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, against whom they’re competing for the American League East title.
The Orioles moved closer to clinching a playoff bid, cutting their magic number to four with an 11-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals before an announced crowd of 15,485 at Camden Yards on Monday night.
Tampa Bay beat Minnesota, 7-4, and the Orioles remain three games ahead of the Rays in the American League East.
Cedric Mullins’ grand slam keyed a five-run fifth. Gunnar Henderson homered in the sixth, his 25th.
The Orioles have scored 10 or more runs in four of their last five games.
Since Mullins returned from missing nearly four weeks with a right adductor/groin strain, he’s only hitting .251.
“He’s a little bit frustrated as of late and wants to contribute more,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “For him to get a hit like that at a time we needed it, we weren’t pitching well, and down early ,,, For him to give us that boost, that was huge.”
Oriole starter Dean Kremer allowed five runs on seven hits, walking four and striking out two in 4 1/3 innings and was bailed out by the Orioles’ offense.
“We’re always happy to see them score runs,” Kremer said. “We’ve got one of the most potent offenses in the league and when they tack them on, they’re fun to watch.”
DL Hall (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning.
Kremer allowed lots of soft contact, and his four walks equaled a season high.
“Kind of lost command there from the beginning and kind of started dissembling as the game went on,” Kremer said.
The Orioles (91-52) scored two runs in the second. The first scored when Aaron Hicks, who had singled, tried to take second after Mullins, who also had singled against St. Louis starter Dakota Hudson (6-2), took third. Third baseman Nolan Arenado’s throw was wild, and Mullins scored. Ramón Urias’ single scored Hicks.
That gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead but St. Louis (63-81) scored three in the third and one in the fifth against Kremer to take a 5-3 lead.
“Not aggressive enough in the strike zone,” Hyde said. “Four walks, that’s not him.”
Adam Frazier’s single scored a run in the fourth, and Ryan O’Hearn’s double in the fifth made it 5-4.
Ryan Mountcastle walked to load the bases, and Andre Pallante replaced Hudson. Mullins’ homer was his 14th of the season, and the third grand slam of his career.
“Less than two outs, definitely trying to drive the ball somewhere,” Mullins said.
Hall, Jacob Webb, Jorge López, Danny Coulombe and Shintaro Fujinami combined to hold the Cardinals scoreless for 4 2/3 innings. Leftfielder Austin Hays made a diving catch with two runners on in the eighth to prevent St. Louis from coming closer.
“That play in left might be the game-saving play,” Hyde said. “All of a sudden, they got the middle of the order up and I’ve got to make some bullpen decisions at that point. Huge play, that ball kept slicing on him.”
Hays added a two-run single in the eighth to give the Orioles an 11-5 lead.
The win enabled the Orioles to avoid being swept for the 86th consecutive series, the fourth-longest streak in baseball history.
Mullins is looking forward to playing in the postseason for the first time.
“One hundred percent. I think the excitement kind of crept in a full month ago,” Mullins said. “We’re playing well. We continue to stay focused each day. With that number narrowing down, it’s just a matter of continuing to go day-by-day and once we get it, I think a burst of emotions will come out.”
Means comes back: On Tuesday, John Means will make his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. He’ll face Adam Wainwright (3-11), who is retiring after the season.
“A lot has happened since he walked off the mound here in April of 2022,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said. “A lot has happened for him. A lot has happened for us. It’s been tough for him to see the team turn the corner and be on the sidelines. I know he’s really been itching to come help this team. In terms of impact, we’ve got to remember, he’s missed a lot of time.
“He’s now just coming up from Triple-A. It’s probably not the norm for a guy to be coming back from Tommy John surgery and be dropped off in a pennant race in mid-September the way he’s been asked to do. He’s excited about it.”
Means, whose 2023 debut was delayed further when he suffered a back injury in late May, is eager to return.
“It kind of feels like, not debut, but it’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it more than anything, but I’m sure I’ll get the nerves before the game,” he said.
Hyde isn’t sure what to expect.
“He’s built up to five-plus innings, but we haven’t seen him pitch in a major league stadium in a couple of years,” Hyde said. “How he handles his expectations and anticipation and nerves, I’m sure it’s going to feel like his first start in the big leagues. I really don’t have any expectations. I’m excited to watch him, I’m excited to have him out there, and let’s hope he pitches well.”
Means isn’t making predictions on how far he can go on Tuesday night.
“I’ll go as far as Hyde lets me go,” Means said. “I feel good. As long as he lets me go, I’ll go.
“Early on, it was more recovery, getting into the normal routine … all these eyes on you all the time. I’m looking forward to having some eyes off me and doing my own thing. We’ve done a great job here, but you’re under a microscope. I’m excited to go out there and be free from it.”
Notes from Elias: Elias said that for now, the Orioles will maintain a six-man rotation.
“Whether that six-man holds up for the rest of the season or not is something you can ask us every day, we may not know until we decide to switch it,” he said. “That’s something we’re continuing to monitor. Right now, I think it would be really hard to watch this team over the last few weeks and not get the impression the six-man has not helped some of our young guys bounce back between starts. Other than a couple of hiccups, we’ve had really good starts since the trade deadline. A big part of that is these guys getting an extra day.”
Elias hopes that Tyler Wells, who was sent to the minor leagues in late July, can still help as a reliever this season.
“We will start to see the box scores stabilize for him. We may need him sooner than that,” Elias said. “He’s someone we’d like to see come back and join the staff because he’s one of our better pitchers. It’s been an unusual juncture for him. He appeared to us to run out of his best stuff very abruptly at the major league level.
“The transition from starting to the bullpen is never easy, but it seems like he’s passed that part of it. I expect to see some good, consistent performance from him.”
Elias also said that it’s doubtful that relievers Keegan Akin (lower back discomfort) and Dillon Tate (right elbow flexor strain) would pitch this season. Tate has not pitched at all this season.
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