CHICAGO - Anthony Santander had identified the issue. He didn’t need more video of his at-bats, though he was willing to keep studying to confirm what he knew.
Santander said this morning that he wasn’t seeing the ball well because he’s late on pitches. Manager Brandon Hyde said he’d like Santander to be a little more on time. They could agree, both on the problem and the supreme confidence that it would subside.
Hyde batted Santander cleanup again today in a 7-6, 10-inning loss to the White Sox. Santander began the day with three hits in his last 35 at-bats, was 0-for-2 against Michael Kopech to strand three runners, and led off the sixth with a game-tying home run.
On a 94 mph fastball.
The bat speed back to its prime.
The game swung back and forth with the same quickness. The White Sox responded right away with the tying run after the Orioles took four leads.
They did it for the final time in the bottom of the 10th against Logan Gillaspie, who threw one pitch and surrendered Yasmani Grandal's bloop double down the left field line to score automatic runner Romy Gonzalez. Jake Burger singled and Oscar Colás lined the next pitch over Santander's head.
Yennier Cano retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the ninth to carry the Orioles into their first extra-inning game of the season. Automatic runner Gunnar Henderson went to third base in the 10th on Jorge Mateo’s sacrifice bunt, Cedric Mullins walked, and Adley Rutschman reached on a fielder’s choice – avoiding his third double play of the day.
It wasn't enough.
The Orioles were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13.
"We had our chances," Hyde said. "I thought it was a really good baseball game. Punches thrown, back and forth, both teams … I was happy with how our guys competed. I thought we played well, made a couple of mistakes defensively.”
The White Sox have walked 19 batters in the series, and their inability to throw strikes reached an ugly point in the seventh when Kendall Graveman nailed Ramón Urías on the left side of the face/head with a 96.2 mph sinker. Urías collapsed in the box, holding his head with both hands, as Hyde and athletic trainer Mark Shires raced out of the dugout. Urías eventually got back on his feet and walked to the clubhouse, and he went into concussion protocol, which could put him on the seven-day injured list. Joey Ortiz was scratched from Triple-A Norfolk's lineup in case he's needed.
"He’s going to be doing some further testing. It was a pretty scary moment," Hyde said.
“When I went there, his eyes were open. Obviously, he looked extremely rattled. Him walking off the field was definitely a positive.”
"It's something really scary in the moment," Mateo said via translator Brandon Quinones. "In Jesus' name, hopefully he'll be OK, he'll be good to go, and hopefully it's nothing too bad. Just hoping it's OK."
The bases were loaded after Austin Hays tripled with two outs and Adam Frazier walked prior to Urías’ at-bat, and pinch-hitter Ryan O’Hearn walked to force in the go-ahead run. The Orioles surrendered their designated hitter with catcher James McCann removed for O’Hearn.
Andrew Vaughn’s two-out double off Bryan Baker in the bottom of the seventh created another tie.
Santander led off the ninth with an infield single against Reynaldo López for his first two-hit game since April 1, and Austin Hays followed with a single, but the next three batters were retired.
Mateo collected his third hit of the game in the sixth, a single into left field off Keynan Middleton with the bases loaded to give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Aaron Bummer walked Mullins, the third free pass of the inning from White Sox pitching, to force in another run as fans booed.
Kyle Gibson couldn’t hold the lead or complete the sixth. Burger hit a two-run homer on a two-strike sweeper for a 4-4 tie.
Gibson, who was first Oriole to start and win his first three games, threw 96 pitches in 5 1/3 innings and allowed four runs and seven hits with two walks and a strikeout.
“Obviously, the slider is the one pitch I’d like to have back,” Gibson said. “It really made it tough on the bullpen the rest of the game. Offense goes out and gets you a lead, you’ve got to get through the sixth inning with that. Had a chance to get out of that and get it to an 0-2 count, a favorable one, and you leave a slider down the middle. That’s what good hitters are going to do.
“The most frustrating part is the spot that it puts the bullpen in. With the extra inning, having to cover five innings. Got to get through the sixth right there.”
Left-hander Danny Coulombe retired the last two batters of the inning, allowed Elvis Andrus’ leadoff infield hit in the seventh and struck out Andrew Benintendi. Baker got the second out, but Vaughn’s double left Coulombe with his first run in 6 2/3 innings.
The White Sox took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Andrus walked with one out and Benintendi pulled a cutter down the right field line. Mateo was charged with an error, the second of three from the Orioles today, but they turned a double play on Vaughn’s grounder.
Santander pulled the teams even again in the sixth with his first home run, leaving him 32 behind last year’s total. He was 0-for-13.
"He's super important," Mateo said. "Hopefully now he's feeling much better. He's a really big part of our lineup, a really important bat, so hopefully that will get him going. He's a big piece for us in this lineup."
The back soreness isn’t used as an excuse for the lengthy slump, though Santander concedes that he’s a few ticks below 100 percent health. He sat out the last two games of the Oakland series before serving as designated hitter Friday night.
“Honestly, it started Opening Day, first day in the cold weather, hitting BP,” he said this morning of the club’s first series in Boston. “Nothing major at that time. I did some treatment, it got better. I woke up like four days ago and just pulled my back. The game before I didn’t feel anything. Normally when we get hurt, we feel something in the game, but I didn’t. I just woke up and it was really bad.”
“(Friday), way better. I’d say 98 percent. I didn’t really feel anything at all.”
An attempt to link the back to the slump is rebuffed. Santander couldn’t break his slump right away but he broke that chain in a hurry.
“No, no, no, no,” he said. “I’ve struggled since Opening Day. Trying to make that adjustment. Keep working hard to get out of that slump, man.”
Santander came to the plate in the first inning with runners on the corners and one out after Mullins' leadoff single, Rutschman’s latest walk and Ryan Mountcastle’s fly ball to right field. Santander missed a fastball, fouled off two more, took a changeup, fouled off a fastball and struck out on a slider.
Kopech started off Santander with more heat in the third inning, at 98 mph, and induced a ground ball to strand Mullins at third base.
Situations kept finding Santander, which felt cruel at times.
Santander led off the second inning Friday night by striking out against Mike Clevinger, frozen on a 95 mph fastball. He also struck out against Jimmy Lambert leading off the eighth, swinging through a 95.7 mph fastball before the Orioles strung together three doubles to pad their slim lead.
The other three at-bats came with runners on base to fuel the frustration. He popped up with one out in the fourth after Rutschman walked and Mountcastle singled. He lined out to right field to end the sixth after Terrin Vavra and Mullins opened the inning with walks. And his popup in the ninth came after Mullins singled, Rutschman walked again and Mountcastle grounded into a force.
“I thought he actually took better swings (Friday) night,” Hyde said this morning. “Just missed one to right field. Just a little bit late on the fastball. Like to see him be a little bit more on time. Like him and Gunnar (Henderson) right now, both getting into pitcher’s counts in almost an every at-bat basis right now, and that’s tough to hit that way. So, I think if Tony gets a couple hits here and there, I think it’s going to get him going.”
Slowing Santander was much harder in the World Baseball Classic, when he was 6-for-17 with a double, triple and two home runs for Venezuela. He got into 11 spring training games and went 5-for-25, going hitless in his first 15 at-bats.
The late surge didn’t carry from Sarasota to Boston, and the homer didn’t send him on a tear. Santander popped up in his next at-bat, but he reached on the dribbler to the left side. Will look like a line drive in the box score.
“They’ve been pitching me really good hard in, so when you’re late on that fastball, it’s hard to see if it’s a ball or a strike,” Santander said. “You have to work on that, be on time, and get out of that slump.”
And don’t let it nestle inside your head.
“That’s part of this game, failure a lot,” he said, “and you have to stay confident, keep working hard, get early to the field, and do what I have to do to get out of that slump.”
Mateo maintained his scorching spring with his third home run of the season leading off the third inning and a single leading off the fifth that was 111 mph off the bat. The first ball traveled 424 feet with a 105.7 mph exit velocity.
The single in the sixth, at 112.4 mph, left Mateo with a .359/.422/.645 line, two doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in 13 games.
"Just focusing on the little things," Mateo said. "Trying not to move too much, trying to focus on barreling the ball and just doing those little things and hoping they work out."
Benintendi reached on an infield single leading off the bottom of the first and raced to third base on Gibson’s off-balance throw that sailed past Mountcastle. Luis Robert Jr. grounded out, Vaughn struck out on a sweeper after getting ahead 3-0, and Eloy Jiménez grounded out.
Gibson gave up the tying run in the fourth on Burger’s sacrifice fly to right – more like a scorching line drive – after Vaughn reached on an infield hit and Grandal doubled with one out.
Hays made a diving catch in left field to deny Robert and strand a runner in the third.
The Orioles didn’t have a hit last night until two outs in the fourth inning. Mullins led off today with a single and Rutschman drew his 13th walk to lead the American League, but Kopeach retired the next three batters. Santander struck out
Rutschman’s 14th walk, tying for the major league lead, came with two outs in the fifth after Mateo singled and was thrown out trying to steal for the first time in eight attempts. Mullins moved past Mateo with his eighth steal in the third inning after a double.
The Orioles are 22-for-24 in attempts.
They fell to 8-7 with the walk-off loss.
"We had our chances," Hyde said.