The Orioles have reached the 60-game mark in their season, the same point where they packed up and headed home last fall while the playoffs unfolded.
There’s nothing truncated in 2021 besides a manager’s patience if the losses mount and mistakes aren’t corrected. The praise, however, can be expanded to cover pretty much everyone during the good times.
A 4-1 start to the month brought a sense of relief and plenty of smiles, and the arrival yesterday of the first-place Mets didn’t change the mood. Getting a 61st game, and many more, wasn’t some sort of consolation.
Pat Valaika, who returned from the bereavement list this afternoon, doubled twice and drove in three runs, Maikel Franco doubled and hit a three-run homer into the second deck, left-hander Bruce Zimmermann retired 13 of his last 14 batters and the Orioles defeated the Mets 10-3 before an announced crowd of 9,431 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles had seven doubles among 15 hits through the sixth, and they won for the fifth time in six games while improving to 22-38 overall and 11-20 at home. They’ve scored 28 runs, the last on Anthony Santander’s leadoff homer in the eighth, with 37 hits in their last two games.
“I thought tonight we took really good at-bats,” manager Brandon Hyde said on his Zoom call. “Once again, up and down the order, a lot of production from the bottom half of the order. ... Just a balanced offensive attack tonight, just a lot of deep counts. We weren’t chasing much, putting the pressure on them, ran the bases well. Just a good ballgame.”
Zimmermann retired nine batters in a row before walking Kevin Pillar with two outs in the fourth. He made it through the fifth at 90 pitches by striking out former Oriole Jonathan Villar.
Since returning from Triple-A Norfolk, Zimmermann has allowed two runs or fewer in four of five outings to leave his ERA at 4.83.
“I guess it was more of just a breather, adjusting to major league innings, major league stress levels, not getting a break through the lineups,” Zimmermann said.
“That was kind of what was going on, I think. To go down there and reset and really establish what makes me me in a pitching sense. And then come back up here and build on top of that, that was the goal. I knew I was coming up and I wanted to be ready for it, so we just made a good plan with (Darren Holmes) and (Chris Holt) and worked with Kennie Steenstra down in Triple-A and then got back up here and just continued to build on what I’ve been working on. And it always helps to have those bats behind me.”
The Mets collected two hits in the first and had nothing else against Zimmermann besides Pillar’s walk. The Baltimore native and Loyola Blakefield graduate walked two batters and struck out seven, departing with a 5-2 lead.
“I felt like the fastball command was extremely shaky early, didn’t really have the good changeup, but he had a slider tonight and I thought that bailed him out of a lot of innings,” Hyde said. “Got seven punchouts. I thought he got a little better as the game went on.”
Mets reliever Robert Gsellman received a mound visit in the fifth after Freddy Galvis’ leadoff single and Pedro Severino’s walk. Franco waited, then struck a pose while watching his fly ball become the sixth in Camden Yards history to land in the second deck and the third by an Oriole.
Manny Machado was the most recent Orioles player on June 2, 2017. The Mets’ Pete Alonso did it last summer.
Alonso hit a two-run homer off Zimmermann in the first inning, much to the delight of the huge contingent of Mets fans, but Valaika tied the game in the second with a two-run double off David Peterson. Valaika increased the lead to 4-2 with a two-out double in the third that scored Galvis.
“I lost my father-in-law (Joaquin Vega) unfortunately and he was one of my biggest fans,” Valaika said. “He loved watching me play more than anything. He really lived for it, so I knew coming back that all he would want me to do was to play. That’s what he told me all the time. Just go and play, and play like I’m in Little League and have fun. He always told me I’m living the dream and sometimes I take it for granted, but he was definitely with me tonight.
“He was the ultimate family man, he loved his family more than anything. Just going to miss him so much. ... It was tough, it’s going to be tough for a while, but I really know he was with me tonight and that game was for him and honestly the rest of the season is going to be for him.”
“Great to see Pat today,” Hyde said. “So cool to see him deliver the way he did in his first couple of at-bats. That was a huge hit for us, that double in his first at-bat. Huge hit. Kind of got the ball rolling for us a little bit offensively.
“Pat’s got a little bit of a heavy heart right now and to see him come through the way he did, that was cool.”
The Orioles were slashing .239/.304/.399 before tonight, compared to .258/.321/.429 last season and having their travel confined to the East region. The 4.84 team ERA was a slight increase from 4.51 in 2020. The 22 wins are three short.
Zimmermann matched the amount of runs he allowed in his last start after Alonso lined a 90.7 mph changeup into the left field seats with two outs in the first inning. The 111.2 mph exit velocity, per Statcast, was an accurate barometer of how quickly the ball left the playing field.
Francisco Lindor walked with one out, James McCann struck out and Alonso made a loud noise.
Zimmermann threw 25 pitches in the first inning, but 11 in the second and 14 in the third while retiring the side in order. Franco denied Tomás Nido of an infield hit in the second by charging the ball and making a barehanded grab and throw.
Franco was in the middle of the game-tying rally in the second, doubling to right-center field after Severino led off with a single. Valaika, who didn’t have a hit in his last nine at-bats and struck out six times, lined a double down the left field line.
Cedric Mullins can’t stop hitting, his RBI double giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead and intensifying the All-Star talk around the ballpark. He led off the fourth with a double and scored on Trey Mancini’s soft single up the middle for a 5-2 lead.
“It’s just amazing, awestruck almost,” Zimmermann said. “It’s probably one of the best stretches of hitting, all types of hitting.”
Ryan Mountcastle sat in the dugout before batting practice, waiting to do an MLB Network interview, while wearing his orange Mullins t-shirt backward so the player’s name was visible across his chest. Mountcastle was the American League’s Player of the Week and he had an RBI single tonight after Santander doubled in the sixth. The team wants Mullins on the AL’s All-Star team.
It also wants Trey Mancini, with 45 RBIs, to join him.
The Orioles put two runners on base with one out in the first and didn’t score. They did it again in the third after Galvis doubled and Severino singled off Villar’s glove. Franco struck out and Valaika doubled over the head of left fielder Dominic Smith, who turned the wrong way.
Gsellman replaced Peterson, Ryan McKenna lined to center and Pillar made a lunging catch.
Hunter Harvey allowed a hit in the sixth and coaxed a double play grounder from Alonso. Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells retired all six batters he faced, but Alonso homered off Travis Lakins Sr. with two outs in the ninth.
Notes: Austin Hays struck out in his first two at-bats tonight with Triple-A Norfolk and hit a solo home run. He was removed for a pinch-hitter.
Grayson Rodriguez made his second start tonight with Double-A Bowie and tossed five scoreless innings with two hits, two walks and six strikeouts. His Baysox ERA is 0.90 and combined season ERA is 1.35.