Anaheim, Calif. - The road trip is picking up a head of steam. After scoring two runs in a loss on Friday at Arizona, the O's have won their past three out west by a 21-11 score over the Diamondbacks and Angels. They won the series opener 6-3 last night at Anaheim.
In this win, youth was served as the Orioles opened a 3.5 game lead atop the AL East - their largest first-place lead of the year.
Third baseman Gunnar Henderson, 22, hit a three-run homer in the seventh to turn a one-run nail biter into a four-run comfortable lead. Grayson Rodriguez, 23, allowed two runs over six and delivered another quality start. Jordan Westburg, 24, continues to look more and more comfortable at the big league level. He had two more hits and made a sensational catch running from the infield into the outfield in the ninth.
“We have really, really talented young players and you saw a few of them tonight," manager Brandon Hyde said. "Grayson, DL (Hall) and how about the play Westburg made in the ninth? That is a difference in that inning and then Gunnar obviously and we’ve got more guys coming too and Adley (Rutschman) is not very old either. We have a lot of really good young players."
Henderson's 23rd homer drove in three in the seventh, a rocket liner out to right field. He is learning how to excel in late-inning, game-on-the-line spots.
“Definitely takes time getting used to it (big spots)," he said. "Just really allowed myself to just be smooth and go out there and not do too much in that situation. Was able to get the job done."
Henderson said the O's are doing some scoreboard watching but they know their showdown series with the Rays is still over a week away.
“I feel like we keep an eye on it, but we are just going to go out there and try to win each game. Because if you win the game that is the best-case scenario and if we do that day in and day out, we’ll put ourselves in a good spot."
The Baltimore offense has scored 102 runs the last 16 games for an average of 6.4 per game in this span.
On the mound, Rodriguez wasn't very sharp early on but got better as the game wore on. After he gave up Randal Grichuk's solo homer in the fourth to cut the O's lead to 3-2, he retired six of the last seven batters getting four strikeouts and a double play.
“Yeah, got a little mad. Not gonna lie. Just kind of woke me up a little bit. Little lethargic there at first. Didn’t really feel like myself. Then we really kind of sharpened some things up there shortly after that," he said.
Rodriguez allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in mid-May to the Angels. They saw a different and better Grayson last night.
“Yeah, definitely a little revenge game," he said. "Kind of wanted to get a second punch at them and I guess we were able to do that tonight."
And since Grayson returned to the roster from the farm July 17, he is 3-1 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in nine starts. In this span he has six quality starts and has allowed a .575 OPS against.
His confidence has skyrocketed from where it was when he was struggling badly in May.
“It’s really not even close," Rodriguez said. "I mean now it’s a little bit more fun. The first time I was up I wasn’t having fun and I think it showed. Now I can’t wait to get out there and get the ball when it’s my day.”
Westburg covered 84 feet to make that incredible over-the-shoulder catch in the ninth.
“Ball was hit, and I saw Ced (Mullins) was playing pretty far back so I knew that it was kind of my ball to go after. Didn’t realize it was hit that deep in the outfield. Just trying to keep my eye on the ball and do whatever I can to catch it," Westburg said.
He added that it's been fun to play behind Rodriguez in his recent games. He's seen this before on the farm.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot behind Grayson coming up," Westburg said. "Confidence-wise, I always have confidence in him. He’s a dog up there. Even if he has a few innings where he probably didn’t feel like himself, he’s able to make the adjustments and attack hitters. I think that is what he did tonight. He just was a bulldog for us for six innings tonight."
O's starting pitchers now have 59 quality starts and are 46-13 (.780) when they get one in 2023.
The game marked the 300th career win for O's skipper Brandon Hyde. He is the fifth O's manager to have that many, joining Earl Weaver (1,480), Buck Showalter (669), Paul Richards (517), and Hank Bauer (407) as managers with 300 wins in an O's uniform.
“Took me long enough. Tough few years, lot more fun these last two. Lot better players. These last two years have been a lot of fun, just kind of turning the corner. Really appreciative," he said as his team gained a game on the Rays with 25 games to go.