SAN FRANCISCO – In the first two games of this series at Oracle Park – where they had gone 1-1 – the Orioles scored just three runs on nine hits versus the San Francisco Giants. They scored in just two of their 18 innings at bat in those games and were scoreless going into the third inning today.
But suddenly the runs came in a bunch. The Orioles scored six times on four hits, three walks and an error in the top of the third as they beat the Giants 8-3 to record another series victory and get their two-city road trip off to a winning start.
Now 37-22 overall and 20-10 on the road, the Orioles improved to 6-4 in rubber-match games. They also improved to 13-5-1 in 19 series. They didn’t secure their 13th series win last year until their 28th series, on July 13.
The O’s big third inning began with catcher James McCann drawing a six-pitch walk off the Giants' starter, right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who had walked nine over 67 1/3 innings coming into this outing. McCann advanced to third on Jorge Mateo’s double, just his second extra-base hit (both doubles) his last 24 games. Adam Frazier’s sac fly to center made it a 1-0 lead.
Adley Rutschman kept the rally going with an infield hit, his 11th infield hit of the year. Anthony Santander popped out, but Austin Hays flared a single into right field for a 2-0 lead. An Aaron Hicks walk loaded the bases and when Ryan Mountcastle walked on four pitches, the O’s lead was 3-0.
Then Josh Lester’s first major league hit was a big one. He singled to center on a 3-2 pitch to score two runs, and a third run scored on the play on an Austin Slater's throwing error for a 6-0 O’s lead. It was Lester’s second at-bat for the Orioles and the seventh of his brief major league career, which began last September with Detroit.
“Great at-bats capped off by, what a cool moment for Josh Lester," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Guy with a lot of minor league time and gets an opportunity and just gets an enormous hit for us. This is a tough place to win a road series. For us to come out here, yesterday didn’t go very well, but got off to a great start today and really cool for Josh Lester to get his first hit in a huge spot for us.
“Somebody that has never been a on a top prospect list. Somebody that is drafted in the 13th round. Look around the big leagues, there are a lot of guys like that. His story is a great one. Grew up in a baseball family. Just grinding at Triple-A. Gunnar can’t go today. He gets a start. Huge hit, big hit for us. One we haven’t been getting, honestly. Get a big hit to give us a little breathing room, and that did."
The Orioles had scored three runs in the first 20 innings of this series and then got six in one inning to open a big lead for right-hander Tyler Wells. It was their second-biggest inning of the season.
Wells would set a career high with nine strikeouts today, but maybe getting all those whiffs elevated his pitch count too, as he made it to 102 pitches and 5 1/3 innings on a cool San Francisco afternoon. He gave up a 426-foot, two-run homer in the sixth to left fielder Blake Sabol to end his day.
Wells, now 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA, allowed four hits and two runs with two walks and the nine K’s, throwing 65 pitches for strikes. He tied his previous career high of eight strikeouts in the San Francisco fifth and got 13 whiffs on 44 swings today.
In 11 career interleague games, Wells is now 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA. In three games this season versus the National League - against Atlanta, Pittsburgh and San Francisco - he has a 1.56 ERA.
The O’s lead grew to 7-0 on James McCann’s solo home run leading off the Baltimore sixth. He hit a first-pitch changeup from right-hander Jakob Junis over the left-center wall for his third homer as an Oriole. Sabol's homer cut the lead to five runs.
But after the McCann blast, the O’s were up a touchdown and hoping this could actually be a rare blowout win to wrap up this series.
It ended up a five-run win, which tied for the Orioles' biggest win margin of the year. Three times before today the Orioles have won by five runs.
Baltimore's eighth run came on Aaron Hicks' RBI triple in the ninth, making him 5-for-11 since joining the Orioles.
Right-hander Mike Baumann replaced Wells in the sixth and got five outs over 1 2/3 innings. Yennier Cano pitched the eighth and Austin Voth the ninth.
The Orioles take tomorrow off and their road trip continues Tuesday night at Milwaukee, where right-hander Kyle Gibson (7-3, 3.89 ERA) will pitch the opener of that series.
A few more postgame quotes:
Lester on a big first MLB hit: “Obviously, it is something I’ve looked forward to my entire life since I was five years old playing baseball. For it to come at a big moment in the game with some guys on was even better.
“I think I might have blacked out a little bit. Obviously, just a surreal moment. I spent a long time in the minor leagues and a little bit last year in the big leagues. But getting that first hit is just a huge moment."
Did Lester ever doubt he could have this day?: “I’d be lying if I said no. Obviously, I am confident in my ability and my chance to get back and get a hit, but it’s a big weight off your shoulder and a big smile on your face when it does come.”
Hyde on Wells' day on the mound: “I thought Wellsy was really good. Too bad he couldn’t get through the sixth. How many punchouts did he have? He had so many strikeouts and foul balls, he was throwing a lot of pitches. Makes that one mistake for homer. He was mixing speeds so well. This is a really good fastball hitting team, they are aggressive on fastballs. We saw that against both (Kyle) Bradish and (Dean) Kremer. He did a great job of mixing."
Wells on getting nine strikeouts: “I think it was a combination of things. I think me and McCann were on the same page a lot of the time. Anytime that he put he down a pitch, and he got into the spot that he wanted the pitch, I tried to locate it there every time. I wasn’t trying to strike out a lot of guys today. I was just trying to hit my spots, and fortunately, it worked out that way."
Kjerstad promoted: Per a source, the Orioles are promoting Heston Kjerstad from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk. He went 3-for-4 with an RBI today in Bowie's 14-10 loss to Harrisburg.
In 46 games this season with the Baysox, Kjerstad, the 2022 Arizona Fall League MVP, batted .310/.383/.576/.959 with 10 doubles, three triples, 11 homers and 23 RBIs.
Norfolk is off tomorrow and will open its next series Tuesday night at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.