Ryan Mountcastle was introduced tonight as making his major league debut, stepped to the plate at Camden Yards to lead off the bottom of the second inning and heard the roar of the fake crowd.
What a story to tell his grandchildren someday.
Mountcastle didn’t tip his helmet or leave the box to gather his emotions. He dug in, took a few big swings that produced foul balls and a 1-2 count, and watched the next three pitches to draw a walk.
The arrival of the No. 5 prospect in the system provided a nice distraction from the latest loss, which increased the Orioles’ streak to six in a row. The Red Sox hit two home runs off John Means in the first three innings, piled on against Jorge López and withstood a late rally to win 8-5.
Means followed the shortest start of his career, which lasted two-thirds of an inning on Sunday, by working through the third and again getting the piggyback treatment with López. Means threw six pitches in the first, 28 fewer than his last outing, while retiring the Red Sox in order with a strikeout.
His third pitch of the second inning resulted in a leadoff homer by Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez took him to deep center field with a runner on base, the count full and two outs in the third. Both home runs came on changeups and the second traveled 431 feet per Statcast, the longest hit at Camden Yards this season.
Until Rafael Devers’ three-run shot off López in the fifth that traveled 447 feet. Also on a changeup and to center field.
We have a new leader.
The Orioles stretched out Means to 44 pitches, 31 for strikes, and he was charged with three runs and four hits with no walks and two strikeouts.
Pat Valaika and Cedric Mullins hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh off Josh Osich, who was in spring training with the Orioles. Chance Sisco followed another Mountcastle walk with a three-run shot in the eighth.
Mullins produced his first career extra-base hit from the right side.
Mountcastle should get a bunch of them.
He went 0-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout tonight and is the latest prospect in baseball to be plopped into the middle of the madness - excited beyond belief to make it to “The Show,” but also forced to accept that it happened inside a vacuum.
He can’t fix it. He can’t recapture or replicate how it’s supposed to look and feel. Acceptance is the only course of action.
“I think this year is going to be a little different,” Mountcastle said earlier today in his Zoom conference call, already ranking among the league leaders in understatements.
“There have been no fans. I don’t think it’s going to be the same, but at the same time I know this is the highest you can play and there should be really good competition and I’m excited to get going.”
The hype machine has been known to chew up young players. Mountcastle didn’t sneak into town. His arrival was trumpeted, with the team posting a slow-motion video montage on Twitter accompanied by the words, “He’s arrived.”
No pressure, kid.
Mountcastle walked out of the dugout for some pregame stretching around 7:15 p.m. and strength and conditioning coaches Joe Hogarty and Ryo Naito broke out in applause. With a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.
He may have been getting a different kind of treatment.
The Orioles (12-14) let Mountcastle run onto the field first, which seemed to catch him by surprise. He wasn’t able to catch Kevin Pillar’s shallow fly ball on Means’ first pitch of the game because Valaika kept backpedaling and called for it.
Red Sox starter Colten Brewer noticed that Mountcastle was on a couple 95 mph fastballs and showed him a curveball and cutter, the last pitch enabling the rookie to draw a walk. He had 24 last year in 553 plate appearances with Triple-A Norfolk.
Sisco grounded into a double play and first base coach Anthony Sanders reached for Mountcastle’s hand as he headed back to the dugout.
The first putout of Mountcastle’s career came on Devers’ fly ball in the third inning, a routine play with no drama. He also held his ground on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s screaming line drive hit directly at him in the sixth.
Mountcastle batted again with Ruiz on first base and one out in the fourth and struck out on three pitches, and flied to right field with Severino on first base to close out the sixth. The at-bat against reliever Darwinzon Hernandez lasted two pitches and confirmed that he didn’t lose his aggressiveness at the alternate camp site.
An eight-pitch at-bat against Osich with two outs in the eight concluded with another walk that moved Severino to second base and set up Sisco’s homer to left field. Mountcastle scorched a couple of balls foul before resisting a high fastball with the count full.
He takes some serious hacks, the kind that blow back a pitcher’s hair or make the ones on his neck stand up.
Michael Chavis had a two-run single off López in the sixth to increase the Red Sox lead to 8-0. López allowed five runs and five hits in four innings.
Colten Brewer, making his second career start among 78 appearances, shut out the Orioles on three hits in four innings. Anthony Santander singled in the third to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.
Mullins had three hits, including a bunt single leading off the ninth, and is 10-for-21 in his last six games.
Manager Brandon Hyde on Mountcastle’s walks: “I thought those were two good at-bats. I was really happy with both of those walks. It was nice for him to get his feet wet. Caught a couple balls out there and had a couple good at-bats.”
Hyde on projecting a young and talented outfield: “We’re young, we’re inexperienced. But it’s fun to see talented guys out there, guys with some tools. ... I think that we’re on the right track with getting talented guys in the system and some of these guys are starting to get to the big leagues and now they’re getting a lot of playing time.”
Hyde on Mullins: “I just see a totally different guy from a confidence standpoint. A guy playing with some energy and taking charge in center field for sure. More competitive in his at-bats where he’s looking to make something happen and get on base. Nice to see him drop the head on a ball tonight and carry it out right-handed, so we’re moving in the right direction with his swings from both sides of the plate. This game is such a confidence game and right now he’s playing with a little bit of a swagger and playing confident.”
Hyde on Means: “The life to his stuff was good again. He just got hurt with his changeup tonight. He just didn’t really have a really good changeup and that’s where the mistakes came and the damage came from. ... But I thought John looked strong, got his pitch count up a little bit.”
Means on comparing last two starts: “I felt really good tonight. I felt like every pitch was working except my changeup and that’s kind of been the story of the year for me. All of my pitches feel really good except my changeup, which is something I didn’t think I’d have to worry about. The movement is good, but it’s middle-middle every time, so that’s the only takeaway is I need to get that pitch down and away.”
Means on Mountcastle: “His debut, two walks. I think he might have walked 10 times in his whole minor league career and up here he has two walks in his first game, so I was giving him crap about that. But he’s going to be so good up here for a long time, so I have nothing but good things to say about him.”
Mullins on Mountcastle: “It’s always fun playing with Ryan. I’ve been playing with him since short-season A ball and we always have a great time. I think what helps us strives as ballplayers is just having fun while we’re out there and making the most of our opportunity.”
Mullins on his improvements at the plate: “I’d say the work I put into the offseason has made tremendous strides in my game in general. And just seeing when there’s an opportunity for me to just get on base any chance I get. Like today I hit the long ball, but when we got to the point in the game when we needed runners I was able to lay the bunt down.”