NEW YORK – Austin Hays didn’t know that the Mariners won early this morning, the final bump that knocked the Orioles out of the wild card race, until he had rolled out of bed, showered and dressed, and headed downstairs to the team bus.
Players were talking about it. How they were forced to move into a different phase of their season, the mindset altered to where satisfaction must come only from being a .500 club, with an opportunity to finish on the winning side.
The playoff dream disappeared, but they had a little more work to do.
Keeping Aaron Judge at 61 home runs was accomplished again. Doing anything good against Nestor Cortes remained a futile endeavor.
The former Orioles Rule 5 pick and two-week reliever in 2018 held the Orioles to one hit and struck out 12 in 7 1/3 innings in the Yankees’ 8-0 victory before an announced crowd of 45,428.
Cortes didn’t allow a hit until Jorge Mateo’s line drive over shortstop Oswald Peraza with two outs in the fifth, dishing out two walks and nothing else. The 12 strikeouts matched his career high set in an April start against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
"We can't square the ball up on him," said manager Brandon Hyde. "The at-bats are tough. Couldn't get anything going once again."
The Orioles, who had their record lowered to 81-77, were stuck on one hit until Ryan Mountcastle singled with one out in the ninth and Adley Rutschman doubled. They can win the series Sunday in their final road game.
"You're going to look flat and whatever when a guy is carving you up," Hyde said. "We just had nothing going on Cortes, and give him credit. Pitching outstanding right now. But we're just not hitting the ball very hard against him."
Others on the Yankees roster did the heavy home run lifting for Judge, who was hit by a pitch, walked twice and struck out twice. Giancarlo Stanton destroyed an Austin Voth fastball in the first inning and Kyle Higashioka launched a slider in the second, as New York built a 4-0 lead.
Gleyber Torres appeared to lift a sacrifice fly in the second, on Cedric Mullins’ sliding catch, but Peraza left third base early and was out on appeal.
Voth needed some assistance. Seven of the first 12 batters reached. He hit two and walked one.
Stanton punctuated a three-run first inning with a 447-foot homer, his exit velocity clocked at 112.8 mph.
Left fielder Ryan McKenna’s feet didn’t budge. He turned out of curiosity to see where Stanton’s ball would land, high up in the seats.
Torres had an RBI double, took third on the throw and scored on Josh Donaldson’s fly ball that Hays ran down on the right field warning track.
The bases were loaded in the second when Torres flied into the unusual double play.
Voth’s afternoon improved beneath the gray clouds. He avoided an early hook and worked through five innings and 77 pitches, with four runs and seven hits allowed.
"He's thrown a lot of innings this year and way over his innings from what he's thrown years before," Hyde said. "Gave us everything that he had today."
Voth was the second Orioles starter in the series to keep Judge in the ballpark after Jordan Lyles last night.
"Whenever you face a lineup with that type of hitter, there's one batter that you don't want to beat you, so you attack him with nobody on, and with somebody on, then you're a little more careful," Voth said. "He's having an awesome season, but at the end of the day, I've got to be the guy who gets him out, so I've got to find any way possible.
"Our game plan was mostly to pitch away, which you saw today. We thought that if we pitched him away for the most part, it would limit some of the damage that he would do, and that's kind of what happened.
Judge was hit by a cutter in the first inning and he walked in the third, the boos getting louder. The count was full again in the fourth when he struck out swinging.
"We're just trying to get him out," Hyde said. "We're trying to make pitches to him. If the game situation calls for it, then we'll be a little more careful with him, but today that didn't really come into play.
"I get it (the boos). They want to see something special and it's a cool moment. Our guy on the mound is trying to do his job, also."
"Fans are going to boo you or love you," Voth said, "so either way I'm going to have the same mentality."
Spenser Watkins replaced Voth in the sixth and walked Judge on five pitches, leading the crowd to boo vigorously and begin chanting a profanity.
Maybe the inning was cursed. The next three batters singled, with two runs scoring on Donaldson’s hit because catcher Robinson Chirinos received McKenna’s high throw to the plate and tried to get an out at second base as Torres broke for home. Torres had an RBI single prior to Donaldson batting.
Watkins retired the next two batters and Harrison Bader doubled for an 8-0 lead. A four-run, eight-batter inning that gave Judge one more chance for his 62nd home run. He struck out with the count full in the eighth.
"We all had an idea going into the series what it was going to be like," Watkins said. "The plan of attack was just hit certain locations, and if only we could be perfect every single pitch. But there wasn't any sense of trying to be reserved or not go after him. I was just trying to locate in certain spots. He's a dangerous hitter, and if you leave anything over the plate he's going to do damage.
"I don't think it ever crossed my mind that I don't want to be the guy. As a competitor, it's one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, kind of a concept."
A New York writer asked Watkins whether he heard the booing.
"Yeah, it was pretty loud," he said. "Of course I did."
Was Watkins amused by it?
"No, it's just Yankees fans."
Cortes retired 13 of the first 15 Orioles, with Mateo’s leadoff walk in the third and Mountcastle’s one-out walk in the fourth giving them two baserunners. He struck out six batters the first time through the order and did it with a variety of pitches: his slider, cutter, sinker, changeup and fastball.
In three starts against the Orioles this season, Cortes has tossed 18 1/3 scoreless innings with 10 hits and 29 strikeouts and continues to look nothing like the overmatched Rule 5 selection who wasn’t ready for the majors and whose presence on the roster didn’t receive universal approval.
He owns a lifetime 1.06 ERA in seven appearances against the Orioles.
"His stuff was on point today," said Gunnar Henderson, who struck out four times today as the leadoff hitter. "He was locating pretty well and his fastball was playing up, and then he was able to change arm angles and still keep it in the zone. It's pretty tough pretty much facing two pitchers. You don't know which one's going to come. His stuff was working today. He had it all."
What unfolded today was exactly what Hays emphasized this morning as an area that must improve next summer.
“I’d say offensively we have to do a better job the first five innings of the game,” he said. “This year we did a really good job late in the game, in late innings. We had a lot of come-from-behind wins, we scored a lot of runs off the bullpen, but I think we can do a better job of getting to starters earlier in the game, scoring more runs early.
“Keeping that mentality of what we were doing late in games is great and that’s something that you’re always going to need to do is score runs later in the game, but we can do a better job of getting to starters.”
The Orioles were shut out for the 11th time this season. Two runners in scoring position stranded in the ninth.
Hyde wants this team to finish, and not just by playing the last game. Grind through each one. Keep prioritizing the wins.
“Incredible,” Watkins said. “I was lucky enough to be there the majority of the year and be part of what this group is doing, and I think just about everybody in here said it from the beginning: 'Don’t count us out.' Especially, Hyder had that meeting early in the year. Regardless of what people are saying and not saying, we’re still a professional baseball team and we’re going to compete like it. And that’s exactly what everybody did.”
“It was such a fun summer this year,” Hays said. “Those few months, everything was just clicking, we were rolling. And it got us to the point where we were able to make it into five games left in the season before we were eliminated from playoff contention. I don’t think anybody would have believed you if you said that in the beginning of the year. So, that was a big step for this organization, this team, and all the guys in this locker room, to be playing meaningful games for three weeks of September. I just really feel like we were fighting for our season.
“It’s really disappointing that it’s not a possibility now, to think that you have to go out and play today knowing we can’t get there. But man, it was a fun ride and it was a fun season. Really looking forward to what this team can do next season.”
Perhaps the conversations on an early October morning won’t be about elimination from the race.
“It’s heartbreaking, disappointing,” Hays said. “All of us I think were dreaming about the idea of getting to the playoffs this year. We were fighting for it, we’re fighting really hard this month. Just came up a little bit short.”
Anthony Santander said via interpreter Brandon Quinones that he found out last night about the Mariners’ win.
“It’s rough to see and to fully grasp the concept that we’re out of it now, but we’re really proud, as a group, of everything we’ve been able to accomplish this year,” he said. “To be here today with not that much left in the season and still be in it up to this point is something to be proud of, and I think we’ve done a lot of good things this year that, looking forward to next year, we have a lot of stuff to build upon and great momentum going into next year.”
Hays is too nice to openly bristle at a suggestion or question, but he politely disagreed today that the Orioles sneaked up on some teams and won’t have that capability in 2023 after being a wild card contender.
“I don’t think we were sneaking up on teams in July and August of this year after we had already played over 100 games and we were playing a lot of the same teams over again,” he said. “I don’t think that we were sneaking up on people this year 100 games into the season, so I think we’ll just come in and just play the game and just find the team morale that we had this year. Creating that culture in spring training is huge, so coming into camp, building that culture with this team again, and then just carrying that through from day one next year.
“It took us a month, a month and a half to just get that going, but I think establishing that earlier next year and in spring training will allow us to start playing better baseball from day one and not have to take a month and a half.”