MINNEAPOLIS – Cole Irvin was not “swirvin” this time. Irvin, who uses that nickname in his Twitter handle, was very much in balance and control tonight and he was setting down the Minnesota Twins with regularity.
His season ERA was 6.32 at game time, but his ERA since his latest return to the Orioles roster June 10 was 3.44 in five games. He gave up two runs in eight innings his last two starts, one rain interrupted. He had shown signs he was getting his act together.
Tonight, in front of 32,724 fans at Target Field in the opener of this three-game series, we saw more evidence.
Irvin left with a lead but could not get a win tonight.
But the Orioles did.
They scored twice in the top of the tenth to beat Minnesota 3-1 in the series opener for a third straight win and 52-35 record.
Coupled with Tampa Bay's loss to Atlanta - the Rays' sixth defeat in a row - the Orioles moved to within three games of Tampa Bay for the AL East lead and they are only one game back in the loss column.
For the second weekend in a row, the O's pinned a loss on Minnesota closer Jhoan Duran, giving him two of his four losses for the year. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for Minnesota in a 1-1 game, but the O's forced extras getting their own zero in the last of the ninth with Felix Bautista on the mound. The inning ended when catcher James McCann threw out Willie Castro trying to steal.
Bautista pitched two innings to get the win and is 4-1.
The Baltimore tenth began with place runner Colton Cowser on second and he scored on the first pitch of the inning. Ramon Urias drove a curveball to right-center for the 2-1 lead. McCann advanced him with a sac bunt and pinch hitter Aaron Hicks scored Urias for a 3-1 lead and win.
The Orioles improved to 5-5 in extra innings games and drop Minnesota to 8-4.
This game stayed scoreless through the last of the fourth, thanks in large part to another spectacular catch in center field by Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins.
After Irvin retired the first nine batters he faced tonight on just 32 pitches showing big life on his fastball, he ran into quick trouble in the last of the fourth of a 0-0 game. Carlos Correa blooped a single to right and Donovan Solano grounded a single into left by the diving O’s third baseman Gunnar Henderson.
With runners on first and second, Twins DH Byron Buxton, who has 15 homers, drilled an 0-2 fastball to deep center and Mullins hustled back to the ball. His leap at the wall took his glove above the fence as he made a remarkable catch saving three runs. At least for the moment.
And that catch became bigger when Irvin, with first and third and one out, fanned Kyle Farmer on a curveball and Willie Castro grounded out on a first-pitch curve. Irvin had given up two hits but no runs and was at 51 pitches in a scoreless tie through four.
Buxton threw his hands out and then tipped his cap to Mullins who responded with a point back toward the infield at the player he just robbed of his 16th home run. Buxton’s blast went 414 feet, had an expected batting average of .780 and would have been a homer in 20 of 30 big league ballparks. But not on this night.
Held to three runs in three games last weekend by a Twins staff with a 3.55 team ERA, which is first in MLB, and a 1.53 ERA in going 5-1 the last six games, the O’s finally scored in the top of the sixth. But just one run to break the 0-0 tie against right-hander Bailey Ober.
Anthony Santander smoked a groundball double down the right-field line off Ober at 103 mph. He advanced to third on Ryan O’Hearn’s single to left and scored on Cedric Mullins' sac fly to right for his 44th RBI and the lead. Mullins batted fourth tonight and took his first career at-bats as a No. 4 hitter.
The lead would hold, but not for too long.
The Twins tied it 1-1 after Irvin was out of the game in the last of the seventh. Irvin began the inning at 71 pitches and was replaced by Minnesota native Mike Baumann after allowing a one-out double to Kyle Farmer.
The first batter Baumann faced, left fielder Willi Castro lined a single to right that Santander dove for but trapped and Farmer scored for the 1-1 tie. Baumann and Danny Coulombe each got an out to get through that inning but the game was not even at one.
Irvin allowed just three hits and one run over 6 1/3 innings with no walks and four strikeouts on 84 pitches. His ERA is 5.50 for the year and 2.92 over six games since his latest call-up to the roster. He has allowed three runs in 14 1/3 his past three starts.
Irvin's fastball averaged 93.1 mph tonight, up 1.4 mph from average and he topped out at 94.5 mph.
O's starting pitchers now have five quality starts the last seven games and the rotation ERA is 2.13 in that stretch.
Mullins on his amazing catch: “Ball like that, decent height to it, knew it had some carry, whole time just trying to see if I have time and room to time a jump. And was able to do just that.
Mullins robbed a good friend with that catch and with Buxton's reaction, got respect for a job well done: “Known him for awhile now. Worked out with him a few times. Gotten to know each other for a few years. Good friends with him. Hate to do it to him but that’s baseball.
"Yeah, I’d say so (getting respect). Him also being an elite defender in the outfield, he’s definitely robbed a few people as well.”
Manager Brandon Hyde on the win: "Just a real gutsy team win. It was a really well-pitched game. But our backend bullpen, Cano how good was he tonight? Bautista. Where would we be without Bautista? He was just amazing. You know going two innings there. We scored. he wanted the ball and was absolutely fantastic."
Irvin on his strong outing: "I've been putting my right foot forward and just focusing on the work I have to do between starts. Just giving the team a quality effort. I think that's just been the focus. Keep plugging away, this is a long season and maybe the Tides will start turning in your direction. Today was a real start going into the break to build off of."