Rain began falling again tonight in the bottom of the sixth inning, threatening to form more puddles on the track and bring a second delay. Conditions that normally aren’t ideal for cycling. But in the baseball sense, they worked just fine for Orioles outfielder Austin Hays.
Hays lined a double into left-center field off Nationals reliever Steve Cishek to become the sixth Orioles player to hit for the cycle and the first since Jonathan Villar in 2019.
Two runs scored on the play, and Hays touched the plate on Trey Mancini’s two-run shot to left field.
Tyler Nevin raced home on Hays’ double with a big smile on his face. He knew.
Hays reached second base, raised both arms and looked up as the rain pelted his face, smiled and did the binoculars gesture to the dugout. He knew.
It took only four at-bats for Hays to make history, also joining Brooks Robinson in 1960, Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984, Aubrey Huff in 2007 and Felix Pie in 2009. No one else did it in six innings.
"It's unbelievable," said manager Brandon Hyde. "That's incredible. What a special night and a beyond incredible accomplishment for a player to do something like that."
Tonight marked the third time that a player has hit for the cycle against the Nationals. Charlie Blackmon (2018) and Jake Cronenworth (2021) are the others.
Cishek tried to get three sliders past Hays, who reached on an infield single in the first, homered in the third and had a standup triple off the right field fence in the fourth against left-hander Patrick Corbin.
"We had the rain delay, so we came back inside. It was unclear if we were going to be able to go back out and finish the game or not," Hays said. "I think I was six or seven spots away, so I wasn't sure, with more rain coming, if I was even going to get the opportunity.
"It was crazy. I was definitely thinking about it. I was just thinking about getting a slider that was hanging over the middle of the plate and hitting it to left-center, and sure enough, Cishek hung a slider right there and I was able to hit the line drive to left-center. It was a really cool feeling. Goosebumps hit me right as I was touching second base. Nothing else to do but just point up to the sky and thank God for the opportunity for that. It was a really cool moment."
Catcher Robinson Chirinos had a little fun with Hays during the initial delay, knowing what was at stake.
"When we were first coming off the field, he's like, 'Do you want to go back out there, or are you good if the game ends right here?' And I was like, 'I'm good with whatever, man, whatever happens. We got the lead right now, so we're going to get the win either way,'" Hays said.
"It's a cool experience for the rain to hold out and to be able to go out there and do that. It might not every happen again, so just tried to enjoy the moment with my teammates."
Mancini homered over the left field wall, Anthony Santander singled, Ryan Mountcastle flied out to end the inning, and the tarp was unrolled again with the Orioles leading 7-0. The teams never came back on the field. Game over.
Hays' work here was done.
"That was awesome," Mancini said. "So proud of him. That was so cool. ... He's just the epitome of a gamer and a professional. He always grinds every at-bat out, and we saw tonight what can happen when you do that. I'm so proud of him and so happy for him.
"The name of the game was always just staying healthy for him. This is Austin Hays we all know and have seen over the years. He's done a good job of staying healthy this year, and this is what you get when he does it. He's a special player and a really special talent."
Mancini embraced Hays at home plate after his home run.
"I was glad I was the first one to be able to congratulate him," Mancini said. "It was just so cool. I was really happy to be there for that."
Tyler Wells didn’t know if his manager or the weather was going to influence the length of tonight’s start.
Hyde wanted to tighten the leash after Wells exceeded 80 pitches in his last two appearances and three of four, all of them resulting in victories. The forecast kept changing, but rain was heading this way.
When and how much were the lone uncertainties.
Teams have made late switches to prevent wasting a starter, like if precipitation is due less than an hour after first pitch - Hyde saw it a few times in Miami - but the Orioles kept checking the radar and stuck with Wells.
The former Rule 5 pick threw a career-high 95 pitches in five scoreless innings, only 55 for strikes, and it began to pour at 9:03 p.m. The delay lasted 44 minutes. There would be another, but only after Hays had his moment.
Hays hit his 10th home run, a line drive over the left field wall leading off the third inning, and Santander hit his 13th later in the inning. Hays on an 0-2 pitch, Santander on 3-0.
The series split left the Orioles with a 31-39 record as they boarded their flight to Chicago.
Hays' three-bagger in the fourth inning was his first of the season and left him just a double away from the cycle, a nice recovery from Tuesday’s four-strikeout game.
"He had a tough night last night and he comes out tonight and just has this unbelievable, epic game," Hyde said. "Congratulations to him."
Perhaps there will be another honor for Hays next month: selection to the All-Star Game.
"That's going to be shown nationally and shown on SportsCenter, talked about tomorrow," Hyde said. "I hope people recognize it and start looking into the kind of year he's having, because he's putting together a great first half."
Hyde mentioned before the game that the threat of showers increases the urgency to take an early lead.
“I think when you know rain’s coming,” Hyde said this afternoon, “you definitely want to try to score first and score often.”
They got the first part out of the way.
Hays led off with an infield hit and Mancini singled on a ball that nicked the glove of leaping second baseman César Hernández. Corbin struck out Santander with the count full, but Mountcastle scored Hays with a double off the right field fence.
Corbin struck out the next two batters and headed back to the dugout at 31 pitches, 25 of them strikes. His 97 hits allowed and 51 earned runs in 69 2/3 innings led the majors. The Orioles worked him hard but didn’t knock him out.
Hays tied for the team lead with five outfield assists when he threw out Juan Soto at third base after Josh Bell singled in the first inning. Soto reached on shortstop Jorge Mateo’s error.
This is the second time in 2022 that Hays threw out a runner and homered in the same game.
"He's impacting the game on both sides of the baseball," Hyde said. "He's playing incredible, Gold Glove type defense, on top of swinging the bat extremely well. It's been fun to watch his growth as a player. He's really starting to come into his own."
Wells hadn’t walked more than two batters in any start. He walked Bell and Nelson Cruz back-to-back with two outs in the third inning to increase his total to three.
Luis García struck out looking at a slider on Wells’ 55th pitch of the game. The pace wasn’t ideal.
Wells threw 24 in the fifth, including 11 to Bell before getting a fielder’s choice grounder. Cruz struck out and the tarp was unrolled, the right-hander’s ERA down to 3.34.
"It's a pretty special night," Wells said. "The big story is Hays. He's been great all year, and to be able to put another one up there on the accolades ... He came up with a great defensive play for me tonight. So, to be able to see him have such a big night, it is really special, especially with how close we are. He's been tearing it up this year. Hopefully, we get to see him at the All-Star Game."
Wells tweeted his support for Hays' candidacy during the second delay.
"I think everyone wants to see him," Wells said. "He's worked so hard, he's a grinder. He goes out every single day, it doesn't matter how he's feeling, he wants to play, he wants the big spots. He's constantly striving to be the best that he can possibly be. I think everyone in this clubhouse is pulling for him, and hopefully Birdland is, too."
Adley Rutschman doubled in the third inning, his eighth of the season in 26 games. The exit velocity was 104.3 mph. Corbin finally got the last out on his 73rd pitch.
Down on the farm, Spenser Watkins tossed a scoreless first inning tonight for Triple-A Norfolk and was done after 10 pitches, keeping him as an option to start for the Orioles Saturday afternoon in Chicago.
Bruce Zimmermann replaced Watkins and allowed five runs and five hits in the second, with one walk and a balk. His next four innings were scoreless, and he finished with seven strikeouts.
Matt Harvey is beginning a rehab assignment Thursday with High-A Aberdeen in Wilmington. The earliest he can return from his 60-game suspension is July 8 with no rainouts.