The choice came down to Jimmy Yacabonis and Mike Wright Jr. for tonight’s start that would close out the penultimate homestand of the 2018 season. Manager Buck Showalter weighed his options, checking rest days, and chose Yacabonis. Wright would back him up.
It was a tag-team affair on a night when the Orioles were promoting World Wrestling Entertainment. How appropriate.
Yacabonis shut out the Blue Jays over the first four innings and Wright blanked them in two. Miguel Castro hopped into the ring, followed by Tanner Scott and Mychal Givens, and the Orioles held on for a 2-1 win before an announced crowd of 11,337 at Camden Yards.
DJ Stewart hit his first major league home run in the third inning for a 1-0 lead and scored again in the seventh and the Orioles improved their record to 44-108 with 10 games left, the next six on the road. They won’t match the 119 losses compiled by the 2003 Tigers, the most in American League history.
Hopefully, no one will ask Showalter about it later tonight.
Cedric Mullins drove in Stewart with a two-out single in the seventh inning, but the Orioles were denied their seventh shutout when Billy McKinney homered off Castro with one out in the eighth inning. Scott retired Justin Smoak on one pitch to end the eighth and Givens notched his eighth save.
Stewart followed up last night’s Little League home run with the actual kind, slamming a changeup off the right field foul pole for a 1-0 lead.
The changeup is Marco Estrada’s bread and butter pitch, throwing it more than 50 percent of the time. Everyone knows that it’s coming, but doing something with it is a different matter.
Right-handers had posted a .309 average against Estrada before tonight and left-handers were batting .230. Stewart didn’t care. He stayed back on a 76 mph changeup and golfed it high off the pole.
Danny Barnes replaced Estrada in the seventh and Stewart collected his first major league double on a shot to right-center field that reached the fence. Left-hander Tim Mayza faced Mullins with two outs, turning around the rookie to his weaker side, and a bouncing single into left field increased the lead to 2-0.
Yacabonis retired the first nine batters, striking out four, before McKinney led off the fourth with a single. His final inning would include a bases-loaded, no-out jam, the kind that provide a nice evaluation tool for a manager.
The Jays didn’t score.
Adam Jones caught Kendrys Morales’s fly ball and fired home for his first assist as a right fielder. Rookie catcher Austin Wynns, who had two hits, played the ball on one hop in the left-handed side of the batter’s box and stretched across the plate to apply the tag.
Yacabonis, making his fifth major league start, hit Kevin Pillar and retired Aledmys Díaz on a fly ball to left field on his 64th pitch.
Wright retired the side in order in the fifth, but the Jays put two on with one out in the sixth on a single and walk. Wright struck out Morales and Pillar to end the threat.
Showalter on Jones’ throw and Yacabonis: “Adam, I was talking to him in the dugout. You’re so used to throwing from a certain angle, getting used to that. You’re taught as a cutoff guy, if the ball ever goes toward the first base dugout, you cut it. I’m talking about a step or two, because the catcher never vacates to the right and then gets an out. You can vacate a little bit to the left toward the runner. We teach it that way anyway. If it comes from center or right. Anytime the throw takes the cutoff man to the right, you’ve got to cut it.
“So, I said, ‘How was that angle, how did that feel?’ He said, ‘That’s really the first one I’ve really had other than practice.’ But I thought Austin made a really good play, too. To say, ‘I’ve got to catch it and then see if I can beat him to the plate.’ It was a huge play.
“I thought Jimmy’s outing was as good, if not better, though. You always worry that at the end of it, something happens which changes the complexion of a good outing. I thought Miguel threw the ball well. Got ambushed by McKinney.”
Showalter on Stewart’s progression: “I talked to him before the game, him and Cedric, about, “OK, what have you got on this guy?’ I wanted them to answer about Estrada. Knowing that, hey, he throws a lot of changeups, he’s got a good one, but believe me, it’s one you can be sitting on trying for it and it still looks like fastball until about two feet in front of the plate. But he handled it well. I thought he stayed selective.
“Obviously, strike three on him was a ball. Otherwise, he would have had a really good night. He had a good night.”
Showalter on satisfaction of playing clean game: “It is. Someone asked the other night, was that loss tougher than ... or are they all kind of ...? I was thinking about tonight how many times I’ve walked down that long hall here after a great win and trying to temper your enthusiasm sometimes. But I still feel elated after we win a game and think about a lot of the good things that went on, especially defensively tonight.
“I thought Austin Wynns was really good behind the plate. They had a good tempo. It’s not easy going through (five) pitchers and getting that done.”
Showalter on Mullins’ RBI from right side: “Especially after the first two pitches. I was looking at the depth of the third baseman on the play and because of (Mullins’) footspeed he was playing a step or two closer than he does on most people. And now it becomes a base hit instead of a drop step and a catch and throw. So it’s another element that you don’t look at that analytically because you don’t think about it, but your eyes tell you that that’s probably not a hit for somebody who doesn’t run well. And that’s an element that Cedric brings.
“I think he’s really getting a good feel for our outfield. You see him a lot more comfortable moving around. He’s going to a couple places now ... It’s a good experience for him.”
Wynns on Jones’ throw: “He had his momentum coming to us and saw the flight of it. I thought I had more time, so I took a step back and it was bang-bang. It was a great throw by Adam.”