O's big inning, Wells' strong outing lead to win and series victory (updated)

MINNEAPOLIS – It was unexpected but very welcome. The Orioles got a big inning early in the game against the club with the best team ERA in Major League Baseball. A club they had scored six runs off in four games over the last two weekends.

But their 6-2 victory today over the American League Central-leading Twins was keyed by a huge six-run six-hit top of the second inning. They batted 10 players and five different Orioles drove in runs.

The uprising came against right-hander Sonny Gray, a pitcher who threw six scoreless on two hits against Baltimore batters last Sunday at Oriole Park. A pitcher who entered with a 2.50 ERA that ranked second-best in the AL and third in the majors. A pitcher who had given up three runs or less in 17 of 17 starts this year.

So the big inning was indeed unexpected.

But it lift the Orioles' record to 53-35 and they have won four in a row after losing six of seven. They have the best AL road record, which is now 27-17 and have a winning road trip at 4-2 with one game to go.

Should the Rays lose tonight against the Braves, the Orioles will be just two games out of first place. Both the O’s and Rays would have 35 losses.

The Orioles can end the first half with five straight wins on Sunday.

“Be great to close out this first half with a good win tomorrow. Hopefully Gibby (Kyle Gibson) pitches well and it will be a well-deserved break for these guys," said manager Brandon Hyde.

The six-run inning came after Gray sailed through a 1-2-3 first on 10 pitches. But singles by Ryan O’Hearn, Austin Hays, making his first start since last Sunday, and Aaron Hicks, loaded them up with none out. Then Colton Cowser and Ramón Urías drew back-to-back walks as the Orioles took a 2-1 lead. A soft liner to left, just 64 mph off the bat of second baseman Adam Frazier, scored two more for a 4-1 edge. Gunnar Henderson hit a soft grounder on the left side that made it to left field for a 5-1 advantage. And when Anthony Santander smoked a two-out liner to right for an RBI single, the O’s rally had some exit velocity – that was 113 off the bat – and they were up by 6-1.

It was the Orioles' third inning of five or more runs since Thursday.

“Well, we are taking our walks," said Hyde. "We are way more patient at the plate than we’ve ever been. We have guys on our club now that are able to manage the strike zone and stay in the strike zone even against a tough pitcher like Sonny Gray. We did a nice job of elevated him and getting some good swings on pitches. We didn’t smoke the ball on him by any means, but we did do enough."

Added Frazier: “I guess it was a couple of big at-bats, drawing the walks in the big inning and we found a couple of holes. Not like we slammed him around the yard, but we found a couple of holes and made him make pitches. Got a couple of walks and those turned into strikeouts last week. That was the difference.”

The Orioles had scored four runs over 37 innings versus the Twins since last weekend through the first inning today. Then they got a six-spot.

Twins pitchers began the day leading the majors in both team ERA at 3.53 and rotation ERA at 3.52. And over the last seven games, the Twins had seven quality starts and a rotation ERA of 0.96.

In the previous four games versus the Orioles this year until today, Twins starters allowed two runs and 11 hits over 25 innings.

Right-hander Tyler Wells got the benefit of all those second-inning runs and improved to 7-4 with an ERA of 3.18 after an 82-pitch, six-inning outing. Wells today topped his innings total from last year with this outing and is now at 104 2/3 after throwing 103 2/3 last year. Something the Orioles are going to have to monitor in the second half.

But today he was solid again, allowing the two runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts.

What a first half for Wells, who ends it throwing eight straight games allowing two earned runs or fewer and pitching to an ERA of 2.83 with six quality starts in a strong stretch of pitching. 

“I think today was a testament to how the last few starts have gone for me," he said. "Constant grinding and battling. Giving up some base hits and walking a couple of guys. But I’ll take the bright side out of this one and say I didn’t give up a home run, so that was pretty solid. But overall, I am really happy with the way I battled the guys made some incredible plays behind me.

“I’m trying to be dependable, I’m trying to establish myself, I’m trying to make sure that each and every time I take the ball I give my team a chance to win. For pretty much every start this first half, maybe with the exception of one or two I accomplished that in my eyes."

Wells did give up a couple of hard-hit doubles in the last of the first today as Minnesota, which began the day with nine wins in its last 15 games, took a 1-0 lead. Eduard Julien smoked a double at 106 mph with one out, moved to third on a grounder and scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch.

But Wells settled in after that. Impressively, he threw a 1-2-3 last of the second on just 10 pitches after he waited in the dugout through the long top of the second. He did allow another run until Donovan Solano's RBI double in the sixth pulled the Twins within four. 

In beating the Twins, he beat the club that drafted him in the 15th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. And the club that lost him to the Orioles in the December 2020 Rule 5 draft.

During a four-game win streak, O’s pitching has allowed just seven runs. O’s starters have recorded four consecutive quality starts with an ERA of 1.42 in that span. They also have six quality starts over the last eight games with an ERA of 2.23.

Well is not heading to the All-Star Game, but he is likely to end the first half in the top 10 in the AL in ERA and as the major league leader in WHIP.

“I felt like I put together a really quality first half," he said. "But, as someone once told me ‘To be an All-Stat you only have to play for the first half. To be a World Champion you have to play good for the whole year. I want to win a championship."

It's strange but true that today the Orioles had six runs on six hits in the second inning (going 6-for-8) and no runs on no hits, going 0-for-24, in the other eight innings.

“They like to make it tough on me," Hyde quipped.

Despite that they picked up another win and can sweep this series on Sunday afternoon.

The Orioles have a three-game win streak against the Twins, their longest since also taking three in a row from July 8, 2017 to March 29, 2018.

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