CLEVELAND - Cedric Mullins has heard in the past that he’s the prototypical leadoff hitter, probably because there aren’t prototypical cleanup hitters who are measured at 5-foot-8.
It’s more than his size, however, as Mullins demonstrated this afternoon while pushing a bunt past the mound in the third inning.
Austin Wynns drew a one-out walk against Indians rookie Adam Plutko and Mullins reached on his bunt single. Plutko scrambled to field it and no one was covering first base - perhaps stunned at the display of small ball coming from the Orioles.
Jonathan Villar snapped them back to reality with a 401-foot home run to right field, Mullins showed the pop that he’s also known for with his first major league home run in the eighth and Alex Cobb tossed his first nine-inning complete game in six years in a 4-2 victory over the Indians at sold-out Progressive Field.
The Orioles, winners for the fourth time in their last 15 games, improved to 37-86 overall and 16-46 on the road. They’ll try for the series win Sunday afternoon with rookie Yefry Ramírez opposing Mike Clevinger.
Villar crushed a 90.5 mph fastball from Plutko, watched it sail into the back of the lower deck in right and glanced toward the Orioles dugout on his way to first base. Three of his nine homers this season have come since the July 31 trade with the Brewers.
Mullins drove a 94 mph fastball from reliever Neil Ramírez an estimated 408 feet to right field after the Indians reduced the lead to 3-2, and after 16 consecutive Orioles were retired. Mullins is so fast, he almost reached second base before the ball landed in the seats.
Cobb retired the first nine batters and faced the minimum number through the fifth with his pitch count at a measly 48. Francisco Lindor reached on an infield hit leading off the fourth, but Chris Davis executed a 3-6-3 double play on Jose Ramírez’s grounder to end the inning.
Yan Gomes lined a single into left-center field with one out in the sixth, Mullins racing into the gap and preventing an extra-base hit. Greg Allen followed with a single and Cobb had his first jam of the afternoon.
Gomes scored on Lindor’s single into right field to eliminate the shutout bid, and Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly to center reduced the lead to 3-2. Wynns threw out Lindor trying to steal second to end the inning, making him 6-for-14 this season.
The Indians put runners on the corners with one out in the seventh, but Melky Cabrera grounded into a 4-6-3 double play and Cobb skipped off the mound and pumped his fist before retreating to the dugout.
Cobb retired the last seven batters he faced, getting Ramírez to ground out to end the game in 2 hours, 17 minutes. He embraced Wynns.
Mullins, in his second game atop the order, went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .357 and is 2-for-8 since moving up. And since first base coach Wayne Kirby arranged for him to speak with former All-Star center fielder and leadoff hitter extraordinaire Kenny Lofton.
“It was awesome meeting him,” Mullins said. “Kirby asked me to follow him to the hallway and I saw Lofton standing there and it was awesome. People always look different without their uniform on. I’ve watched plenty of video on him and still almost didn’t recognize him, but it was awesome.”
Lofton threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Friday night’s game and tossed out some free advice to Mullins, who hung on every word.
“Just stay to my game,” Mullins said. “To self-evaluate myself and just understand what my role is, what my goal is.”
And don’t feel compelled to do too much simply because you’re leading off.
“You can pick your spots when you can be aggressive,” he said. “This will be my first time seeing all these guys, so it’s smart on my end to see as many pitches as possible.”
Mullins, who twice ran the count full Friday night, has hit leadoff in all but 10 of his minor league games. It’s more natural for him to reside atop the order. But manager Buck Showalter took his usual approach and made it a gradual ascension.
“I definitely felt back in my comfort zone,” Mullins said. “There were times batting seventh, eighth and ninth where I almost completely forgot where I was batting in the lineup. But getting back to the leadoff spot, I definitely felt better.”
Cobb continues to look a whole lot better in the second half, posting a 2.03 ERA in 40 innings. The split-changeup got him strikeouts of Lindor in the first inning, Cabrera to end the fifth and Yandy Díaz in the seventh. He also gloved Díaz’s line drive in the fifth, which caused Wynns’ jaw to almost drop into the batter’s box as he removed his mask.
Plutko retired 14 in a row after Villar’s home run, and Neal Ramírez replaced him in the eighth. Cobb wasn’t getting much more wiggle room.
Jose Ramírez walked on eight pitches to open the seventh, Díaz struck out on three and Yonder Alonso singled to put runners on the corners. Cabrera swung at a fastball and Villar started a critical double play.
Mullins homered, Paul Fry began to warm again and Cobb took the mound in the eighth at 77 pitches. Getting Jason Kipnis on a comebacker enabled Cobb to establish a season high at 7 1/3 innings, but he wasn’t done. Gomes flied to center and Allen grounded out in a 10-pitch frame.
Cobb hadn’t worked eight innings since July 21, 2017 versus the Rangers. He hadn’t exceeded eight since going 8 1/3 on Sept. 21, 2013 against the Orioles. His last nine-inning complete game was a shutout against the Athletics on Aug. 23, 2012.
Today marked Cobb’s fourth career complete game, the last in 2013 that spanned eight innings. He threw 100 pitches today.