Ryan Mountcastle barreled a pitch from Red Sox reliever Hansel Robles in the ninth inning last night, tossed the bat, paused at the plate and realized that he needed to start running.
His leadoff home run broke up the shutout, but it came with a sliver of doubt about where it would land.
No player had cleared the left field wall since the Orioles moved it back and raised the height from seven feet to 13. Boston’s Xander Bogaerts came close earlier in the game, but Austin Hays made the catch at the edge of the warning track.
Mountcastle’s ball traveled 423 feet with an exit velocity of 111.2 mph, the second-hardest hit ball by an Oriole this season. Enough to let him slow the pace as he rounded the bases.
“That’s one of the best balls I’ve ever hit. It went about three rows deep,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a long way out there, but it feels good to finally get one over there.
“Right when I hit it, I (stood) there and I was like, ‘Yeah, I got that one,’ and then I looked at where I hit it and then I started running a little bit harder. But just happy it went out.”
Talks among players critiquing the new dimensions didn’t focus as much on who would be the first.
“It was if there would ever be a first was more of the discussion,” Mountcastle said.
“There were a couple balls, I know Bogaerts hit one pretty good yesterday that didn’t go, so that’s going to be a challenge the whole year, but you’ve got to live with it.”
The reception in the dugout last night was fairly tame.
“Nothing crazy,” Mountcastle said. “Just like a normal home run. But after the game everybody was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know how that only went three rows deep.’ But it is what it is.”
Manager Brandon Hyde watched the swing, heard the contact, followed the flight of the ball and didn’t know whether it was clearing the fence.
Asked if he knew right away that it was gone, or kept wondering, Hyde said, “Wondering. And hoping.”
* The deadline is approaching for teams to reduce their rosters from 28 players to 26, with the cuts required before Monday’s game. The Orioles are expected to carry 14 pitchers and go with a short bench, but it isn’t final.
Hyde said there’s “a pretty good chance” that 14 pitchers are kept, but he added, “If we keep pitching like we did last night, then it makes it a lot easier to carry 13.”
Kyle Bradish tossed six innings, allowing two earned runs, and Keegan Akin followed with 2 2/3 scoreless.
This could be an important weekend for a few players who are on shaky ground. Some tough decisions are pending.
“I think we’ve seen that things can happen on a nightly basis,” Hyde said. “We’re planning on scenarios when the roster shrinks, but kind of play it day-to-day right now because you just never know.”
* The Orioles seem committed to keeping Akin in his relief role. Of course, there’s a temptation to insert him into the rotation with five of his six appearances scoreless.
“Right now, I’d love to leave him alone, but you never know what’s going to happen with pitching,” Hyde said.
“Really like the way he’s throwing the ball. He’s picking up big innings for us, also, he’s being durable. He’s been throwing that two-inning, two-plus … I would have had him finish the game last night, but I really wanted to get Jorge (López) in the game. He hadn’t pitched in five days. … To give him a hitter or two at the end was important.”
Akin’s command and stuff have ticked up this month.
“Both have gotten a lot better,” Hyde said. “I said it in the dugout last night, his breaking ball is so much better this year. I always felt like Ake had good stuff. Tough time putting guys away. And this year for me, the fastball’s up a little bit, but also, he’s got other pitches that he can throw to put guys away with or get weak contact early in the count, instead of long counts, kind of relying on a sneaky fastball as a starter or how he’s been the last couple years.
“This year, he’s throwing some really good sliders to left-handed hitters and see a better changeup, also. Just a better pitch mix, like I said, either to get weak contact or put guys away easier this year.”
* Hyde didn’t have an update on Alexander Wells’ inflamed left elbow or Chris Ellis’ inflamed right shoulder.
Both pitchers have undergone medical testing and remain with the team.
“They’re still getting looked at, they’re still getting treatment,” Hyde said. “We’re hoping for the best from both those guys.”
* Hyde checked the game report last night after DL Hall’s start in Aberdeen. Hall tossed four scoreless innings with two hits and six strikeouts.
“Sounds like it was pretty good,” Hyde said.