SEATTLE – As the city of Seattle should know, defense wins championships.
Wait, sorry, wrong sport. Defense sometimes wins baseball games, as it nearly did tonight for the Baltimore Orioles. The offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain in a 2-0 loss, in which the Birds mustered just one total hit.
"We're playing really well defensively," said manager Brandon Hyde. "That's why we're staying in games, pitching and defense is still extremely important, and we've been doing that."
"I wouldn't be able to do it without the help of the defense," added Dean Kremer. "They're spectacular."
Entering tonight’s game, Kremer had posted a 1.71 ERA through his first four starts of the season. In the same sample size, Robbie Ray boasted a 1.80 ERA in his previous four starts. They both pitched as their resumés would suggest on Tuesday night.
When asked what was working for Kremer tonight, Hyde responded "really everything."
It was a pitcher’s duel through and through. With the help of some absolutely incredible defense, Kremer dodged danger around every corner en route to an impressive night with no runs allowed on just four hits in seven innings of work. Kremer has now gone 18 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
After some struggles in previous seasons, Kremer is seemingly on his way to a nice comeback.
"Getting hurt, obviously you don't want that, but it gave me a chance to step away and re-think," said Kremer. "Talking with coaches, talking with mental staff as well, all take a part in what's happening."
"Really impressed with how aggressive he is in the strike zone," said Hyde. "Good fastball, good cutter, good curveball, threw some good changeups to left-handers. Had everything working."
The first sign of trouble of the night for Kremer came in the second inning. Eugenio Suárez stood on third base with two away in the inning after a bloop single, wild pitch and a groundout. A deep drive from Cal Raleigh almost made it a 2-0 ballgame much earlier, but things stayed square for the time being.
The right-hander evaded trouble once again in the fourth, inducing an inning-ending double play from Taylor Trammell to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
Without high strikeout numbers, Tyler Wells and Kremer have been helped immensely by the defense behind them at T-Mobile Park. For Wells, Cedric Mullins provided some super-human catches in center. Tonight, somehow, the defensive play was even more impressive.
"I still want to punch guys out, but if it's not happening right now, I have the confidence to be able to throw in the zone and know that the guys behind me are going to make plays," said Kremer.
Austin Hays threw out yet another runner on a cannon from right field, and made an outstanding catch at the wall in the seventh. Plus, it is not a stretch to say that between the defense of Tyler Nevin and Mullins, every out of the sixth inning was spectacular.
On the other side, Ray was all the more impressive. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner pitched like just that, striking out eight in seven shutout innings of his own. Outside of Mullins and Hays, everyone in the Orioles lineup fell victim to a Ray strikeout.
Ray started the season with some rough outings, but had been cruising entering Tuesday’s matchup. Over his previous three starts, the lefty struck out 20 batters and allowed just two earned runs. Tonight only proved to be a continuation of that success.
Ryan Mountcastle recorded the first and only hit of the night for the O’s, a hard liner to the opposite field in the top of the third inning. An Adley Rutschman walk and a double steal pushed runners to second and third, but Baltimore wasn’t able to capitalize.
"He's pitched really well and kept us off balance, looked good out there," Mountcastle said.
Once Ray exited the game after the seventh, the O’s finally got some opportunities to score. Mullins narrowly missed a two-run home run with a ball that skirted just outside of the right-field foul pole. Hays seemingly came centimeters from an RBI single as a tag from Carlos Santana at first base just nicked the top of his shoulder. Baseball is cruel like that sometimes.
In the bottom of the eighth, the cruelty continued. Baltimore's defense finally showed some signs of being played by human beings. A strange single off the bat of Julio Rodríguez put two runners on with two outs in the inning. When asked about Rodríguez not touching first on the initial sprint down the line, Mountcastle said he didn't realize. Can't blame him on a bang-bang play. A "that's unfortunate," was solemnly added after the realization.
Jesse Winker drove both runners home with an RBI double to deep center field, a ball that was somehow almost caught by Hays.
The O's won in blowout fashion last night, and just narrowly dropped tonight's hard-fought game. Baltimore still has the chance to take the series tomorrow.