BOSTON – Adley Rutschman lined a single into left field in the first inning today, his determination growing to reach base in every plate appearance in 2023. To keep spinning major league and franchise records.
The ball left Rutschman’s bat at 109 mph, and it was a foreshadowing of things to come against Chris Sale. But there was no way to predict what would happen in the ninth inning.
No lead is safe at Fenway Park, but this?
Félix Bautista retired the first two batters, but Ryan McKenna dropped a fly ball from Masataka Yoshida and Adam Duvall lined a ball to the first row above the Green Monster for a stunning 9-8 win over the Orioles.
"Ran to it pretty hard, it was up in the sky, and I guess I just didn't follow all the way through with it," McKenna said. "It hit the (heel) of my glove and just fell out. It was unfortunate timing. Bautista was throwing a hell of an inning there and all of our guys were really working hard to give us a chance to win that game. Just tough timing."
Teammates consoled McKenna after the game. Jorge Mateo put an arm around his shoulder.
"Just keep my head up," McKenna said. "It's a long season, stay confident, don't let that take away from anything that's going to help you positively. Obviously, it sucks, but you move forward."
"Mac's done a really great job in the outfield for us for a few years," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Mistakes happen, and unfortunately at a bad time, but we have a lot of confidence in him and his defense and feel bad for him right now. Nobody feels worse in there than Mac. So, we've just got to rally around him."
Players bent at the waist as Duvall rounded the bases after clobbering a 99.7 mph fastball from Bautista. The finish almost floored them.
"It's heartbreaking right there at the end, but I've got a lot of faith in McKenna," said Austin Hays, who started in right and went 5-for-5. "He's made some amazing plays. I know he's a great outfielder, and play this game long enough, you're bound to have one of those plays happen. It's unfortunate, the situation that it was in. That's my fellow outfielder out there. I know he makes that catch 999 times out of 1,000, so it's just one of the hard parts of the game. It could happen at any moment.
"I just let him know that he's a great outfielder and every time the ball's hit to him, I have 100 percent faith and confidence that he's going to catch every ball. Just because this one play happened, that doesn't change, so just keep his head up and continue to make plays for us. It's a long season. He's going to have a lot more opportunities to keep being a good outfielder."
The outfield play in two games has been surprisingly poor. McKenna pinch-ran and replaced Anthony Santander in left on Opening Day and got the start today.
"It's been cold," McKenna said. "There's a lot of stuff going on. Obviously, it's early in the season and we're still trying to get our reps in. We've got to do our jobs well and execute when we need to. It didn't happen today but I know going forward we'll do a better job."
"We've got some really good defensive outfielders," Hyde said. "I think we've just had a tough couple games. Tough conditions, the other day, a little windy today. We'll play better outfield defense. ... And Mac's going to make big plays for us, Hays is a plus outfielder, Ced's a great outfielder. Didn't play our best defense here the first couple games, but we need to."
Said Hays: "We've got some areas we need to clean up. It's been uncharacteristic so far, but just got to be better, to put it simply. We've got to be better out there. Our pitchers are doing a good job. We've just got to pick those guys up."
McKenna had a sensational diving catch to end the third inning, which made what transpired in the ninth all the more shocking.
"It is surprising for sure," Bautista said via translator Brandon Quinones. "I think he's a really good outfielder, we all know he has a really good glove, so I think we're all a little bit surprised that it happened. But at the end of the day there's still 160 games left and it's something natural that happens, it's part of the game."
"This is not fun," said starter Dean Kremer. "Bottom line, we lost. It is what it is. We've got 160 more, so got a lot to look forward to."
* The first pitch temperature of 56 degrees was 18 higher than Opening Day, but the Orioles kept producing frozen ropes before a chilling finish.
Ryan Mountcastle followed Rutschman's single in the first with a two-run homer, the ball slamming off a Draft Kings sign above the famed left field wall. Otherwise, it would have bounced on Lansdowne Street.
Sale notched his second strikeout, but Hays homered to left-center for a quick 3-0 lead. More loud contact and audible groans from a less-than-capacity crowd.
Mountcastle destroyed a slider, sending it 422 feet with an exit velocity of 107 mph. Hays redirected a 95.7 mph heater and sent it 430 feet to the right side of the yellow line that separates balls in play from home runs. His exit velo was a mere 105.2 mph.
Hyde lowered Cedric Mullins to eighth in the order against a lefty. Mullins lined a single up the middle in the second inning, with his exit velo 106.5 mph. He hit a three-run homer to center field in the third, the ball leaving his bat at 103.8 mph and traveling 418 feet.
Nothing cheap against Sale, who hadn’t surrendered two home runs in an inning since Aug. 14, 2021 against the Orioles, with Hays and Trey Mancini doing the damage in his first game back from injury in two years.
Here’s the really interesting facet of this Orioles’ offense: It isn’t one-dimensional. It doesn’t live or die with the longball. It can beat a team multiple ways in the same game.
The Orioles stole five bases and drew nine walks Thursday. Mateo and Mullins executed a double steal today in the second inning. Mateo delivered a run in the third on a fielder’s choice, stole second base and jogged home on Mullins’ blast.
McKenna was hit on the foot by a Sale pitch and stole second with the Orioles leading 7-1. Hays singled again in the ninth to make him 5-for-5, and he swiped second base to give the club 10 steals. Henderson walked for the third time today and the fifth in the series.
The green light is as blinding as the afternoon sun.
Per @SLangsOnSports, Mateo is the eighth player since at least 1901 with multiple steals in each of his team’s first two games of a season. He joins Tommy Pham in 2020, Eric Young Sr. in 1999, Kenny Lofton in 1996, Rickey Henderson in 1989, Lonnie Smith in 1982, Maury Wills in 1965 and Danny Moeller in 1913. And the Orioles’ 10 steals are a record for a team in the first two games since at least 1901.
Mateo’s fielder’s choice was set up by back-to-back infield singles from Anthony Santander and Hays, and Gunnar Henderson’s walk. Henderson walked again in the seventh and ninth, but Mateo struck out to strand two runners.
This club is built to either get on base or circle them with one swing.
The 18 runs scored tie the 1973 team for the second-most in Orioles history to begin a season. They had 25 in 2006.
Sale lasted only three innings and allowed seven runs and seven hits with six strikeouts.
Mullins batted .209/.265/.313 against left-handers last season and began sliding down the order against them. What appeared to be a tough matchup today was lopsided in the other direction.
Ramón Urías led off for the first time in 215 major league games and struck out in three at-bats against Sale. But look past the whiffs and consider how he got to the plate three times in three innings.
Josh Winckowski also struck out Urías to end the fifth inning, and Chris Martin fanned him in the eighth.
According to STATS, Don Buford is the only other Orioles player to strike out five times in five at-bats, on Aug. 26, 1971 against the White Sox. Sam Horn holds the modern franchise record with six against the Royals in 1991, but in seven at-bats.
Zack Kelly replaced Sale, and a Mountcastle single and Santander double increased the lead to 8-5. Santander was thrown out at third.
Hays followed with a double, making him a triple shy of the cycle in the fourth after going 0-for-5 on Opening Day. He led off the seventh with a ball in the left-center field gap and cruised into second base with another double. His single in the ninth came on a shallow fly near the right field line.
"Any time you get five hits, you feel good offensively," Hays said. "I had a couple soft hits that fell, my infield hit and a nice blooper at the end, so it's not like I was just smashing balls all over the yard. I did have some good luck today, some balls falling in, so it's always nice to see some balls find holes."
Rutschman was retired in his next four at-bats because he’s human, but he’s also the first player in Orioles history to reach base safely in his first seven plate appearances to start the season.
Per STATS, the Orioles are the first team since 1901 to have two players collect five hits in the first two games of the season. Rutschman was 5-for-5 in the opener. And this is the second time in club history that they had players finish with five-plus hits in back-to-back games – Tommy Davis on July 25, 1974 in the nightcap of a doubleheader, and Rich Coggins the following day.
* Dean Kremer also went only three innings today, allowing five runs and six hits with one walk, three strikeouts, two home runs and a wild pitch. Mike Baumann replaced him after 56 pitches, 36 for strikes.
"Didn't look to me like he had command of his off-speed pitches, honestly," Hyde said. "The curveball was missing, the changeup, just didn't have his best stuff today."
Duvall led off the second with a triple on a ball that Mullins chased to the fence before failing to make a leaping grab, and he scored on a wild pitch.
The Red Sox hit a pair of two-run homers in the third. Kiké Hernández led off with a walk and Alex Verdugo jumped on a cutter, admired it briefly and took a few hops before breaking into his trot.
Rafael Devers singled into right-center, over-slid second base while going for the double and was out on Hays’ throw to Mateo, who made a lunging tag. But Justin Turner doubled and Duvall homered to left on another Kremer cutter to trim the lead to 7-5.
Kremer seemed to have a nice mix going early. He struck out the next three batters in the second after the triple/wild pitch, disposing of Christian Arroyo by going curveball, four-seamer, cutter, sinker, curveball. Triston Casas struck out on a cutter and Reese McGuire on a curve. But the start got away from him in the third.
"As a whole, I didn't throw as many strikes as I'd like to," Kremer said. "But I'd like to shout out the offense. They've done a tremendous job today and two days ago, putting up runs. I just didn't put up zeros after we scored and that let them back in the game."
Baumann retired the side in order in fourth, with McKenna making his diving grab to rob Hernández.
Mateo pounded his fist in his glove, further evidence that the hand was OK after he sustained two cuts on his right index finger while stealing third base. Head athletic trainer Brian Ebel attended to Mateo, who was the last Oriole to come out of the dugout for the bottom of the second. The pitch clock was turned off during the delay.
Mateo stayed in the game and said afterward that he's fine. He had two bandages on the finger.
Danny Coulombe made his Orioles debut in the fifth and stranded Turner after hitting him with two outs. Austin Voth took the baton in the sixth and stranded a runner, but Hernández homered to lead off the seventh and Cionel Pérez entered.
A double, single and Duvall’s automatic double reduced the lead to 8-7, but Turner had to go back to third base after the ball hopped the fence. Hays chased it into the corner and couldn’t make a play, but the Orioles caught a break.
Casas struck out on three pitches, just as Masataka Yoshida did for the second out before Duvall’s double.
Logan Gillaspie retired the first two batters in the eighth on ground balls to Mateo. He got ahead of Hernández 1-2, and was ruled to have hit the shortstop with a pitch that sailed up and in. The call stood after a crew chief review, though replays didn’t seem to show any contact.
Verdugo flied out against Keegan Akin. Bautista retired the first two batters in the ninth and should have been done after three batters, but the ball popped out of McKenna's glove and Duvall sent Red Sox fans into a frenzy.
"I try not to view it in a frustrating manner," Bautista said. "Those are things that just happen sometimes. Try to control the things you can control and sometimes you can't control some things. I think I did a good job of going out there and getting the first three outs one, two, three, but things didn't work out that way, so whatever else happened after that happened. Just try to control what I can control."
Bautista had to quickly shake off the effects of Yoshida reaching and tackle Duvall, who came within a single of the cycle and produced his fifth career walk-off.
"My approach is the same after that, just continuing to attack the hitters, throw strikes and be confident attacking," Bautista said. "It just didn't work out after that."
Bautista recorded the save Thursday but allowed two runs, one earned. He said he's fine physically. Nothing wrong with the knee and shoulder. Only a misplayed fly ball kept him from a 1-2-3 ninth.
"I do feel really good, actually. I feel that I'm at 100 percent," he said. "Now, it's just a matter of continuing to work and get into a rhythm."
"Félix has got great stuff," Hyde said, "and he'll be fine."
* Down on the farm, Josh Lester hit three home runs today in three consecutive at-bats to give him four in Triple-A Norfolk’s first two games.
Lester is the 10th player in franchise history to have three home runs in a game.
Hudson Haskin hit a two-run shot in the ninth in a 13-4 victory over Durham.
Bruce Zimmermann started for the Tides and allowed two runs and four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.
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