ARLINGTON, Texas – Trey Mancini was stalling. Finding excuses to stay at his locker. Knowing that walking out of the clubhouse would be his final act with the Orioles.
Mancini wasn’t coming back. At least, not in 2022.
A bag sat on the floor, packed for the trip to Houston, where he’d meet his new team.
The old team could have come out flat tonight in its series opener against the Rangers and everyone would have understood. The energy seemed to get sucked out of the room. And the Orioles rely so heavily on it.
Cedric Mullins hit his 14th career leadoff home run, and the Orioles sent nine batters to the plate in the second inning while building a four-run lead. The Rangers committed a fielding error in the second, and starter Jon Gray walked off the mound with soreness in his left side in the middle of Anthony Santander’s at-bat with the bases loaded.
Mullins, Santander and Ryan Mountcastle delivered run-scoring singles in the inning, Spenser Watkins carried a shutout into the sixth, and the Orioles proved again that they haven’t found an obstacle they can’t overcome.
Adley Rutschman doubled twice, singled and walked in a 7-2 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Field that lifted the Orioles above .500 again at 52-51. They led from start to finish and equaled their win total from 2021.
"Very tough day," said manager Brandon Hyde. "I had no idea how we were going to respond, and I was really happy with our at-bats, especially early. Cedric set the tone with an opposite-field homer there in the first inning. Spenser Watkins was fantastic. ... Happy with how we responded after a tough day."
"I think it says a lot to who Trey is and who Trey was to us," Watkins said. "None of what we've accomplished is possible without him, and not necessarily on the field. Of course, having him on the field is a great attribute, but what he's instilled in all of us in the clubhouse is priceless. He is a leader, a teammate and a friend. Emotional day, sad day to see him go, but there's a lasting impression, for sure."
Corey Seager homered with one out in the sixth to break up Watkins’ shutout bid, but the right-hander completed the inning. He allowed one run and five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over 88 pitches, and his ERA dropped from 4.03 to 3.80.
Watkins has surrendered one run or fewer in five of six starts since rejoining the Orioles. He ended the rotation’s streak of 14 consecutive games without a quality start.
"I thought he had everything working tonight," Hyde said.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias knew how the Mancini trade would be received inside the clubhouse. He wasn’t celebrating it, his tone more subdued than usual during his video call with the local media.
"The trade deadline is always hard for teams when they’re trading away major league players,” he said. “This is, obviously, very significant with Trey's tenure with the team and with the cohesiveness in our clubhouse right now, and I know everyone is emotional about it. But we also have a lot of young players that have seized a lot of terrific opportunities this year because of spots that have been opened, and I'm hopeful we will continue to do that.
“We just selected Yusniel Diaz. We have other players on the horizon. We’ll see what happens here in the next 24 hours. I think that this is a very talented group that is just getting started, and I think that we're going to keep playing hard and pushing ahead this season."
Hyde didn’t linger in the dugout following his pregame media scrum, leaving the bench after the last question and walking alone to the area behind the batting cage. He usually chats for a bit, often with a few laughs. But the day already had drained him and there still was a game to play.
A playoff push to resume, no matter how much his roster changes.
“I think we’re all aware of the business of the game, and right now we’re three games out of the last wild card spot. Proud that we’re in it,” he said before first pitch.
“The Cincinnati series was a little disappointing, I thought we’d play a little better. But this is the business that we’re in, and unfortunately, you see people that you’re close to leave. I don’t think it’s going to affect our effort and how hard we play and how much we’re going to try to win every single night, try to win the series.
“We’ve had a pretty good year up to this point, want to see it continue. Trey has been a big part of that. We need other guys to step up. We have guys that offensively, for me, have room to improve, and hopefully we can pick it up and continue to play well the last few months.”
Mancini has heard the rumors for years, to the point where it became a running joke. He’d tell reporters that he was tuning out the trade talk, then express his relief at staying in the organization.
Leaving seemed more real this time. The pending free agency, with the expectation that his mutual option wouldn’t be exercised. The rising salary, reaching $7.5 million this season to avoid arbitration. The young prospects beginning to force their way onto the major league roster or being on the verge of it.
Mancini said it’s actually easier for him to be traded now rather than last season.
“I feel better about the way that I’m leaving things, I guess, and there are just so many guys that have come into their own and there’s such good camaraderie and energy here,” he said. “And these guys are going to be just fine and they’re going to still be playing great. I know they will and I hope they do. I have such good friends in this room. So, it’s hard to leave them, but at the same time, I’m onto new horizons and I’m excited to see what the future brings.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of that organization. They have had such a consistently good team for a lot of years and they’re having another great year this year, and I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s crazy. I’m still kind of taking it all in. I’m not one to leave these guys quite yet in the locker room. I’m having a hard time getting in the shower, putting my stuff on and leaving, because I know I won’t be back in the locker room with them So, that is a little tough, but definitely excited to see what the rest of this year holds in Houston.”
The Orioles will visit him later this month, and the Astros come to Baltimore in September.
“I was talking to all the guys,” he said. “I think we’re playing in Houston in a couple weeks, so that’s going to be really weird, honestly. I told a few of the pitchers, ‘Take it easy on me,’ if they can. They have all been really nasty this year, and I’m not looking forward to facing this bullpen at all. So, like I said, it’s crazy.”
Mancini didn’t let his emotions get the best of him while meeting with reporters, his words measured carefully at times to keep them from cracking, but the goodbyes with teammates were a strain. None of his conversations were easy.
Mancini stood near the visiting dugout this afternoon, exchanged some hugs and walked to the bullpen for more. The embraces were tight and lasted a long time. Not the typical handshakes and lean-ins.
“Hyder, it was really hard to say bye to him,” Mancini said. “Something that really sticks out to me is the training staff. (Brian) Ebel came in, and these are guys that I credit with saving my life two years ago. If things had progressed much further with the aggressiveness of the (colon) cancer, because I didn’t have that many symptoms, if they didn’t catch that blood test, I wouldn’t be here. I really wouldn’t. They are guys that I feel forever indebted to for taking action, for somebody my age, to know to do an endoscopy/colonoscopy and to check it so diligently like they did I think they saved my life, so saying bye to them was really hard.
“That’s another thing. I was a patient at Hopkins too. I’m always going to be involved with them. So, from that standpoint, it makes it even tougher after having been through that. You just develop such a deep connection with people in those kinds of situations.”
Mancini won’t miss the left field wall at Camden Yards. No tears will be shed over it. He’d rather aim at the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. A much fairer fight.
“I don’t want to speak too soon,” he said, smiling, “but I think it bodes a little bit better for me than the wall at Camden.”
Mancini was long gone by the time Mullins lined a ball inside the left field foul pole for an immediate 1-0 lead. Rutschman followed with a 111 mph line drive single into center field and Santander was hit by a pitch before Gray retired the next three batters.
Terrin Vavra led off the second with an infield single for his first major league hit. Jorge Mateo reached on an error and Mullins singled to score Vavra. Rutschman walked, and singles by Santander and Mountcastle extended the lead to 3-0. Santander's hitting streak has reached 12 games.
"Our goal every time we go out is to attack guys early and try to win a ballgame," Mullins said. "We have really good at-bats late in games, but it's time for us to try to turn around and do it early in the game."
Mullins led off the fourth with a walk against Garrett Richards, and he scored on Rutschman’s 19th double in 56 games. Rutschman came home on Mountcastle’s double, his first extra-base hit in 12 games.
Rutschman began the sixth inning with his 20th double. Jorge Mateo had an RBI double in the seventh.
"That's the thing about this team, you try to compartmentalize stuff as much as you can, show up and play," Rutschman said. "Even though it's definitely difficult losing a guy like Trey and the things he brought to the team and everyone around him, we just did the best job that we could today, and we're fortunate enough to be able to win."
Nick Solak led off the eighth by homering off Keegan Akin, his first as a pinch-hitter, to reduce the lead to 7-2. But the Orioles weren’t going to be denied.
If they ever needed a win, it was tonight.
Mullins kept running down fly balls to the warning track. Rougned Odor hustled to reach a ground ball in the shift and record the out. Ramón Urías made a diving stop at third base to rob former Orioles minor league catcher Jonah Heim. Mountcastle sprinted up the right field line and into foul territory to catch Marcus Semien’s popup. A crisp double play was turned in the ninth.
The Orioles understand the business. They can be sad for Mancini, seethe at the timing of it, but they can’t sulk over it.
They can lose the face of the franchise and still have heart.
“Of course, we all have in the back of our mind that we miss Trey," Watkins said, "but we're excited to get a win, and we'd like to think it was for him.”
"Of course it's tough," Mullins said. "We build relationships over the course of a few years. It's the business, it's baseball, it's going to happen, but the relationship itself stays strong forever. We'll continue to be in contact and I wish him nothing but the best."
The trade deadline arrives Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Elias isn’t done trying to consummate more deals. The friendships make every departure hurt more.
None of them as much as Mancini.
“It’s going to be tough to replace, honestly,” Hyde said. “It’s going to be tough to replace in the clubhouse. It’s going to be tough to replace on the plane, on the bus, around.”
“He’s the nicest human I think I’ve ever met.” Mountcastle said. “I’ve never seen him be mean to anybody. He’s welcomed all the rookies, everybody, even me, with open arms. He’s a great person.
“It’s going to be tough without him. And I know a lot of us are pretty upset.”
"Trey did such a good job of just individually addressing each guy and thanking them for our efforts for him, and we got to express our thanks for his efforts toward us," Watkins said. "It was an emotional two hours, a happy, a sad two hours. We went through the whole rigmarole. It was tough, but it was cool to come out and get a win today."