ATLANTA - If the Orioles felt sluggish after last night’s marathon game, they put up a brave front - so to speak.
Mark Trumbo hit a grand slam before Atlanta starter Julio Teheran recorded an out to give the Orioles a 4-0 lead.
Center fielder Ender Inciarte reacted like he was going to make the catch, but he turned at the last instant and watched the ball land on the other side of the fence, an estimated 412 feet away. The drive had an exit velocity of 108.7 mph.
Trumbo has hit four home runs in his last six games. The Orioles have now been outscored 66-38 in the first inning.
Steve Wilkerson became the latest player today to have his feel-good story interrupted by a roster move.
Less than 24 hours after collecting his first major league hit and gathering on the field with his family, Wilkerson was called into manager Buck Showalter’s office and told about his demotion to Triple-A Norfolk.
A 15-inning game created the need for a fresh bullpen arm, which today belongs to Donnie Hart. Wilkerson has minor league options that made him the easiest corresponding move.
Wilkerson estimated that he had 100 people in the stands last night cheering for him, a group that included family, friends and former coaches and teammates. He had to turn about about 50 ticket requests.
It was a makeup moment for the Wilkerson clan that left Nationals Park during Wednesday night’s lengthy rain delay and missed him.
“It was really cool,” he said this afternoon. “D.C. was a little bit interesting of a scenario for that game, getting the rain delay and they had to take off, but coming back here last night and getting a hit in front of my family and friends was really special.”
Better than he imagined?
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, a wide smile spreading across his face.
The hit also created his first major league RBI, as the Orioles plated six runs in the top of the ninth inning. Wilkerson lined a pitch into right field.
The Braves responded with four runs off Zach Britton to push the game past regulation, and the Orioles won 10-7 in 15 innings.
“It was a wild game,” Wilkerson said. “I got up there and just tried to keep things simple and get a pitch to hit and put the bat on it and drove in a run. It was perfect.”
Wilkerson prevented a walk-off for the Braves in the 14th by charging Dansby Swanson’s slow roller with two outs and firing to first base. A winning run would have scored had Wilkerson failed to make the play.
Asked what ran through his mind as the play unfolded, Wilkerson again took the correct route.
“Get the out,” he said. “Pick up the ball, get it out and get the out and keep the game alive.”
Wilkerson made the same impression on the Orioles that led them to consider protecting him in the Rule 5 draft. They covet his versatility and like the way he handles the bat.
A return trip to the majors should come later in the summer, and Wilkerson will be given a chance to break camp next spring as the super-utility player. Nothing that happened last night would give the Orioles reason for pause.
“I think I did my job as well as I could,” he said. “The game brought me a couple of opportunities to be in it and keep it alive and I think I handled it OK.”
Though Wilkerson could develop into an everyday player, the Orioles gave him special instructions designed to put him in a utility role, make him someone who’s similar to Ryan Flaherty, who can be trusted at any position and withstand prolonged stretches on the bench.
“I think it just goes back to my preparation,” he said. “I have to be mentally prepared to play wherever they ask me to play that night. Whether it’s the infield or outfield or whatever.”
Catching would present the biggest challenge, but he’s donned the gear as part of the experimentation. Minor league catching instructor Donnie Werner was tutoring him in Sarasota.
Director of player development Brian Graham was the first to mention it to Wilkerson and included the repetitions at first base and in center field in the instructional package. Wilkerson headed for the cage and bullpen to get acclimated to life behind the plate in case of an emergency.
“It was fun, it was cool,” he said.
Harder than it looks?
“Everything in this game is,” he said.
Update: Nick Markakis stroked an RBI single off Dylan Bundy in the bottom of the first to reduce the lead to 4-1. Bundy gave up three singles.
Update II: Chris Davis’ three-run double with two outs in the fifth inning gave the Orioles a 7-1 lead.
Update III: Ozzie Albies’ two-out RBI single in the fifth reduced the lead to 7-2. Bundy has thrown 96 pitches in six innings.
Update IV: Hart didn’t retire any of the four batters he faced after replacing Bundy with one out in the seventh, and Markakis’ two-run double whittled the lead to 7-4.