Grayson Rodriguez’s major league tour moved the organization’s top pitching prospect from his home state to his home ballpark.
What are the attachments to Chicago, where he’s pitching over the weekend?
Tonight provided another slice of the dream. Standing on the mound at Camden Yards, five years after the Orioles drafted him in the first round. The white uniform. His parents nervous spectators within a more supportive crowd that wore orange T-shirts with “Welcome to the Show” across the back.
Rodriguez jogged out of the dugout with his teammates, began to warm up and heard the applause. He missed with fastballs clocked at 97.6 and 98 mph, ran the count full and issued his first home walk.
There are always firsts.
The first strikeout, against former Oriole Jesús Aguilar on a 98.6 mph fastball. The first run, again in the opening inning, on Brent Rooker’s two-out broken-bat single into left field with the count 1-2.
Rodriguez fanned Jace Peterson, another former Orioles player, at 98 mph to conclude his 20-pitch inning. The nerves were quieting. It was just baseball again.
It made room for Ryan Mountcastle to have his own moment.
It's never boring and often unpredictable.
The Orioles defeated the Athletics 12-8 behind nine RBIs from Mountcastle, including a 456-foot grand slam to left field off Dany Jiménez in the seventh. Rodriguez didn’t qualify for the decision after lasting 4 1/3 innings, leaving to a standing ovation after walking the bases loaded, one pitch shy of 100.
Austin Voth let all three inherited runners score, and Rodriguez was charged with five runs and six hits with four walks and six strikeouts. Shea Langeliers hit a three-run homer off Voth for a 7-3 lead, and the mood in the stands turned sour.
It spun back hard in the seventh, when Austin Hays gave the Orioles an 8-7 lead with his fourth hit, a single into center field, Adley Rutschman drew an intentional walk and Mountcastle tied the club record for RBIs shared by Jim Gentile in 1961 and Eddie Murray in 1985.
"Two greats," Mountcastle said. "To tie them in any category is super special. Pretty cool night."
Mountcastle is the first to reach that total at home, and his teammates stayed back in the dugout before the top of the eighth to let him take the field alone to another standing ovation.
"I love to see that, love to see our guys get recognized," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Must have been a great feeling for him, but we've had a handful of those the past few years and it's really, really special for everybody for those guys to get that honor."
Mountcastle leads the majors with 18 RBIs. He’s the first player with nine in a game since Adam Duvall with Atlanta in September 2020.
Forty-two players have totaled nine or more. The record is 12.
"He swung the bat really well in spring training and looked like, for me, a much more mature hitter this spring, and he's carried it into the season," Hyde said. "The power he has is incredible and he's got great bat-to-ball skills on balls in the strike zone or just off. You make a mistake and he's ready to hit. He's off to a great start this year. Love the confidence that he's playing with right now, and what a special night for him."
Mountcastle didn't know he had nine RBIs until assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes told him later.
"He's like, 'Do you know you have nine RBIs?'" Mountcastle said. "I had no clue. I was like, 'That's a lot, man.'"
Oakland manager Mark Kotsay defended his decision to walk Rutschman with Mountcastle on deck and on a roll.
"It's pick your poison with Adley and with a base open," he said. "Adley's been swinging the bat really good. We got the right-on-right matchup I think that we wanted. It just wasn't successful tonight."
"It was pretty cool," Mountcastle said. "The crowd was getting into it and it was pretty loud. For me to put a good swing on one there was awesome.
"I thought I was seeing it well today and for them to do that, I get it, but gave me another chance to score some more runs and capitalize on it."
"I wouldn't want to face Mounty right now," Hays said, "so, putting a guy on to bring him up to the plate just shows how much respect they have for Rutsch."
Mountcastle has three homers in two nights, including a 417-foot three-run shot into the home bullpen in the fifth. Hays, moved to leadoff, homered off reliever Trevor May in the sixth to tie the game and leave him a triple short of the cycle. He settled for a two-out RBI single to center field in the seventh.
"He's really, really talented, he's got so many tools, and he's swinging the bat really well right now," Hyde said.
"It's all about consistency. He had a really good first half last year. He was beat up the second half. Just consistent at-bats. He's going to put up huge numbers."
"He's hitting a lot of balls hard and he's driving the ball to all fields right now," Hays said. "He's just staying within himself. He's hitting home runs but he's not going up there just trying to yank everything or pull homers down the line. He's just getting good pitches to hit and putting barrels on them, and he's got big-time power where he can hit a homer to any field on any pitch in any part of the zone. That's all I'm seeing right now. He's waiting for his pitch and putting good swings on them."
James McCann’s first hit with the Orioles was a tie-breaking double in the fourth. But Rodriguez kept running into full counts and showed some frustration on a ball call just before losing Jace Peterson, and his spot in the game.
Before Rodriguez headed to the bullpen to warm up, Hyde said he just wanted the rookie to be “able to relax enough to pitch to his ability in his first home start.” It would have lasted longer except 18 of 23 batters went to two strikes and 10 reached base.
The stuff was there again, including the 84-mph changeup that Aguilar waved at in the third before beginning his walk back to the dugout, turning to check the replay on the video board. The three-pitch strikeout of Kevin Smith to end the third, the shortstop flailing at an 81.7 mph slider. Rodriguez’s 11th whiff, matching his Texas total. The curveball that produced another ugly swing from Aguilar in the fifth.
Two more walks followed in an inning that began with Tony Kemp’s single and featured 10 batters coming to the plate.
"For me, I thought he had better stuff than he did in Texas," Hyde said. "The fastball had a ton of life. He was throwing 97-98. I thought the slider got better as the outing went along. I thought he made some mistakes 0-2, some young pitcher mistakes. Got beat three times 0-2, where he has the leverage. Hopefully, he learns from that. The guy's throwing 98 with a good slider and a really good changeup. There's places to go when you're ahead in the count to get an easy out or to get a punchout. A little tough time doing that tonight, but for me, the stuff was better tonight."
Smith was stranded in the second inning after a leadoff single, which preceded two fly balls and a called third strike on Esteury Ruiz. Rodriguez got him looking at a slider and took a few steps down the slope before plate umpire Mark Wegner made the call.
Three singles in the third, the last by Peterson, broke the tie, and Conner Capel led off the fourth with a single – the sixth hit off Rodriguez, all with two strikes.
"Early I think we made some mistakes 0-2, throwing pitches too close to the zone," Rodriguez said. "Obviously, had to pay the price for it. Big league hitters will put the barrel on it and get a hit. And then late, falling behind in the counts early. Can't do that, either."
The difference between the last two levels he's pitched at is how the mistakes are "amplified," as he put it.
"These guys can hit," he said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing against. They're big-league-caliber players. They can get the barrel on the baseball. They're 0-2 and they're in protect mode and your pitch is too close to the zone, they're going to swing at it and probably hit it."
The Orioles lumped Rodriguez into the last camp cuts in spring training, his lack of command and results reversing the expectation that he’d break as the No. 5 starter. Hyde said he hasn’t talked to Rodriguez about it since that day.
“Sometimes, there’s baseball decisions that are made, and that’s part of being a player,” Hyde said. “We went with five different starters at the time, knowing that he was going to be up here at some point because things are going to happen like they happened. I thought he handled it extremely well.
“It’s fun to watch him have fun in the dugout, it’s fun to watch him interact with our players in the clubhouse. He’s a really talented guy and mature, too. I think he’s handled everything really well.”
His environment tonight provided another batch of warm memories.
"Man, that was probably the most awesome thing that I've ever been a part of," Rodriguez said. "To see Oriole Park at Camden Yards from the pitchers mound, that's something I'll never forget."
Also, to see the shirts honoring him with only one previous major league start on his resume.
"That was pretty surreal," he said. "It really doesn't feel real, people coming to the game, getting a T-shirt with my name on it. That's something that I guess I've dreamed of since I was a little kid, and it came true tonight.
"The support was pretty cool. It's something that I've never been able to experience, having that many people in the stands. Obviously, being kind of disappointed with how it ended. It was nice to know the fans were still with me."
Rodriguez had exceeded 99 pitches only once as a professional, racking up 100 with Single-A Delmarva back in May 2019.
The Orioles (6-5) tied the game in the bottom of the first on Hays’ leadoff double at 110.2 mph off his bat, and fly balls from Rutschman and Mountcastle that kept him moving. They tied it again in the third on Mountcastle’s two-out single after Jorge Mateo led off with an infield hit, advanced on Cedric Mullins’ bunt and stole third base with one out. Rutschman drew a four-pitch walk to keep the rally alive.
Mateo is 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts and tied with Myles Straw for the major league lead.
McCann reached third base with no outs in the fourth, but he was thrown out at the plate on Mateo’s ground ball. The Orioles put two more runners on base with no outs in the fifth after Mountcastle’s homer and couldn’t erase the deficit. But Hays grabbed the homer hose in the sixth and Mountcastle took another turn an inning later, the Orioles’ version of a garden party.
"The offense had my back," Rodriguez said. "That's something that I guess this team is about to be known for. There are a lot of guys in this clubhouse who can swing it, and they had my back tonight. That was pretty awesome."
Maybe the left field wall isn't so daunting after all.
"I think both me and Hays were complaining the first series," Mountcastle said, "but it's starting to warm up a little bit and seems like it's playing a little better now."
Maybe the Orioles have it figured out.
"I'm not going to say that yet," Hays said, laughing. "It's nice to see a couple go over, but I'm not going to say I have it figured out or anything."
* Ryan O’Hearn hit a three-run homer tonight for Triple-A Norfolk. Drew Rom tossed six scoreless innings with three hits allowed.
César Prieto hit his first home run tonight for Double-A Bowie. Garrett Stallings allowed two runs in four innings. Heston Kjerstad served as the designated hitter and homered in the eighth. He still hasn’t played in the outfield.
High-A Aberdeen trailed 15-0 in the ninth inning before Isaac Bellony collected his third hit, a solo home run.
Catcher Creed Willems hit a two-run homer for Single-A Delmarva.