The timing of Spenser Watkins’ start for the Orioles was bound to shift the attention away from him at various points in the night.
Grayson Rodriguez was pitching for Triple-A Norfolk in Charlotte. The internet is still a thing. You get the idea.
The No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball struck out a season-high 11 batters in 5 1/3 scoreless innings, his fastball registering at 98-99 mph per Statcast. Screens on laptops in the press box were flipped like hotcakes.
Rodriguez exited the game in the sixth after an error and walk disturbed his evening. The out came when he covered third base on a fly ball force play – you had to be there - and Mike Baumann stranded the runners.
Watkins, meanwhile, was facing the team with the best record in baseball, and with Aaron Judge returning to its lineup. Judge had an RBI double and home run through the third, Watkins was removed after the fourth with the Orioles leading, and Judge greeted Joey Krehbiel with a game-tying 422-foot home run.
The Yankees scored twice against Dillon Tate, one run unearned, and the Orioles lost 5-4 at Camden Yards to extend their streak to five games.
Tyler Nevin and pinch-hitter Robinson Chirinos singled off Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth. Ryan McKenna doubled to left field, scoring Nevin and putting the tying run on third base. Cedric Mullins popped up in foul territory to end it.
Tate loaded the bases with one out in the sixth on a single, walk and hit batter, and DJ LeMahieu’s grounder gave New York a 4-3 lead. Josh Donaldson doubled with two outs in the seventh and scored when shortstop Ramón Urías couldn’t field Gleyber Torres’ sharp ground ball.
Logan Gillaspie made his major league debut, the 38th player used by the Orioles this season, and tossed two scoreless innings. He escaped an eighth inning jam after two-out singles by LeMahieu and Judge, his fastball reaching 96 mph, and stranded Torres in the ninth after a two-out double, the fastball topping out at 97 mph.
"That was a cool moment," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Showed a really good arm. Two scoreless innings in your debut against the Yankees, that's a night he'll never forget. I just saw the video of him and his dad. That's a cool moment, that's what this is about. I'm happy for him and his family, and cool to watch him make his debut."
"Unbelievable," Gillaspie said, unable to conceal his smile during his entire interview at his locker. "I worked so hard to get here. It's just another day of baseball. Whenever I was warming up, it started to hit me a little bit. I just thought of baseball. I've been doing it for so long."
Including independent ball in 2017 as a pitcher, catcher and first baseman before signing with the Brewers.
"It's been tough," he said. "Other than that, all of it has paid off."
Asked what he was thinking about as the bullpen gates opened for him, he said, "I hope I can throw strikes with all this energy coming out of me."
"After the first ball, I was like, 'This isn't that bad.' Threw the first strike, got comfortable. And then just left them over the plate. I'm really comfortable pitching out of the stretch for some reason, so it wasn't that hard."
Gillaspie's parents were in the stands. His fiancée and sisters were back home in Bakersfield, Cal.
"Thanks for watching," he said.
The tiny cheering section still made plenty of noise.
"I heard my name chanting, which was pretty cool," he said. "I was like, 'I've only been here for less than a year, and hearing my name, I started tearing up. ... I'm getting choked up now."
Gillaspie didn't know that the Orioles were calling him until 11:30 p.m. He was wide awake at 2 a.m., mimicking his expression tonight for the media. No sleep.
"Every time I checked my clock it was only an hour past," he said. "I was like, 'Come on.'"
Urías tied the game with a solo home run off Jameson Taillon in the second inning and Judge untied it with a shot to center field in the third after Watkins retired six batters in a row. Watkins was charged with two runs and four hits in four innings, with three walks and a strikeout. He threw 73 pitches.
"I just thought he threw a lot of pitches there the first four innings," Hyde said. "Obviously, Judge hurt him a couple times. Judge coming back around there in the fifth, third time through the order to start the top of the fifth, went to the bullpen. A couple guys who have been really good for us, Krehbiel and Tate. ... Tate's command just wasn't quite there tonight, unfortunately."
Trey Mancini led off the fourth with a single, went to third base on Rougned Odor’s bloop double down the left field line and scored on Torres’ fielding error. Nevin’s sacrifice fly gave the Orioles a very brief 3-2 lead.
Pitching coach Chris Holt headed to the mound just four batters into Watkins’ start, after a hit batter, run-scoring double and two walks. Donaldson popped up the next pitch and Torres grounded out.
Watkins was out of the inning with one run scored on Judge’s ball that hit the top of the left field wall. A home run in past years. Austin Hays retrieved it and threw out Judge going for the triple.
Hays was playing in his first game since Thursday in St. Louis. He grounded into a double play, flied out, bounced to the mound and grounded to third.
The second was a bounce back inning for Watkins, just like Kyle Bradish last night. Watkins retired the side in order on seven pitches, with the Yankees flying out for the cycle – left, center and right.
LeMahieu flied to center leading off the third and Judge, aiming in the same direction, cleared the fence rather than take another shot at the wall. A double and walk contributed to Watkins’ 27-pitch inning, but the Orioles were down only a run.
"I do a better job in the first inning of getting ahead, staying ahead ..." Watkins said. "It's definitely a reoccurring theme I've got to do a better job of, keep that pitch count down in the first inning as well as the third inning, gives me a chance to go deeper, for sure."
The margin returned to one run in the sixth. Mancini led off the bottom half of the inning with a double, but Michael King entered and struck out the next three batters.
King retired all nine batters with six strikeouts.
The loss lowered the Orioles’ record to 14-23, a season-high nine games below .500.
"It was great to see the fight in our guys," Hyde said. "Scoring off Chapman is no easy task. We haven't done a whole lot of that over the years, since I've been here. To watch us get a two-out rally there, bring the winning run to second base, I thought our guys took really good at-bats."
Rodriguez is the only pitcher in the International League to register at least eight strikeouts in four outings, according to Tides Notes. His next start again will threaten to break the internet – probably on Sunday while the Tides remain in Charlotte. While Watkins is lined up to pitch at home against the Rays.
Laptops assisting the media in a broader search for starter stats.
Kyle Stowers hit his fifth home run for Norfolk tonight. He’s homered in back-to-back games.
Adley Rutschman, starting behind the plate, hit his second home run – a line drive into the right field seats with an exit velocity of 112.6 mph. Marcos Diplán struck out the side in the ninth for the save.
Gunnar Henderson hit his fifth and sixth home runs for Double-A Bowie.
Jacob Teter belted a two-run homer for Single-A Aberdeen. Coby Mayo had two hits.
Isaac Bellony hit his fifth home run for Single-A Delmarva and Isaac De Leon hit his second. Dan Hammer earned the win in relief by holding Fredericksburg to one run and two hits in four innings, with no walks and five strikeouts.