Mullins masterful again as Orioles end losing streak (updated)

The questions aimed at Orioles manager Brandon Hyde earlier this season sought an explanation for his team’s inability to play as well at home as on the road, where the majority of wins were achieved.

After the Orioles dropped their 19th road game in a row yesterday, Hyde was asked before boarding a flight out of Cleveland how much he looked forward to getting back to Baltimore.

The venues must not be the issue. And a neutral site isn’t an option.

There’s no real science to it. The Orioles simply need to play better.

They started to tonight with Cedric Mullins’ sixth career leadoff home run, and with Thomas Eshelman retiring 13 of the first 14 batters before Lourdes Gurriel Jr. tied the game with a home run. They continued with Austin Hays’ go-ahead RBI single in the fifth, his second hit of the night matching Mullins and Pat Valaika.

Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells, now a high-leverage reliever, retired all four batters he faced to protect a one-run lead. Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco had RBIs in the eighth and the bullpen logged 4 1/3 scoreless innings with one hit, but it came back around to Mullins, whose three-run shot in the eighth brought a curtain call and nailed down a 7-1 win over the Blue Jays before an announced crowd of 13,284.

Mullins-Curtain-Call-Black-Sidebar.jpgFans chanted “M-V-P” as Mullins circled the bases after Jeremy Beasley’s fastball landed in the right field seats for the center fielder’s third multi-homer game of his career, all of them in 2021. He stepped out of the dugout, a few teammates prodding him, and raised his batting helmet in the air.

“The dugout erupted and what a great night for Cedric,” Hyde said via Zoom. “The crowd was unbelievable tonight. That’s the most energy in the ballpark that I’ve seen here in three years and I feel like our guys really fed off that. For the fans to recognize Ced and his great night, that was a super cool moment.”

Comparing Mullins to a few years ago, Hyde said, “He just walks around different. He walks around with a lot of confidence. He’s playing with a ton of confidence. He’s gotten better in every single way. His swing is so short right now to the ball. He shows you the power he has, the speed. He’s playing like an All-Star. The defense has been All-Star level for a couple years and even that’s improving.”

Tanner Scott struck out two and stranded a runner in scoring position in the seventh, Hunter Harvey retired the side in order with two strikeouts and a ground ball in the eighth, Paul Fry allowed the only hit among the relievers and struck out a batter, and the Orioles improved to 23-46.

The losing streak is over at eight games.

Galvis doubled off the out-of-town scoreboard to score Ryan Mountcastle, who led off the eighth against Patrick Murphy with a single and moved up on a wild pitch and ground ball. Galvis came home on Franco’s single into right field, Pedro Severino singled off Beasley and Mullins whipped the crowd into a frenzy while raising his season home run total to 11.

“That was awesome,” Mullins said “First curtain call ever. I was kind of nervous to go back out there, but it felt amazing.

“It was just a surreal moment. It was awesome to be able to walk back up and tip my hat. The team was excited for me. I came back in and congratulate me on the day. I knew we had to go back out there and finish the game.”

Robbie Ray tried to get a 94 mph fastball past Mullins, who drove it 428 feet to center field, per Statcast, for the team’s third leadoff homer this season and first since June 6, also by the center fielder and likely 2021 All-Star.

“It would be awesome,” Mullins said. “I know my team has my support and everything, and I have their backs, as well.”

Dunkin’ supplied cream-filled donuts today, boxes stacked in the back of the press box, with pictures of Mullins and Mancini to promote their All-Star campaigns.

“It was kind of weird,” Mullins said. “Felt a little odd when I saw a video of Tanner Scott biting my head clean off, but it was pretty cool.”

The Orioles handed out Mullins T-shirts at the gates and fans wore them or waved them over their heads as he circled the bases.

Home or away, Mullins just keeps hitting.

“It’s unbelievable, man. That guy worked so hard in the offseason to get to this point and it’s paying off for him,” Eshelman said.

“I told him today when I got to my locker, I said, ‘Hey man, it’s an awesome experience to be next to an All-Star.’ So hopefully he gets that nod. He deserves it big-time and I’m glad he’s on our side.”

The home run gave Mullins 82 hits and tied him with the Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for first in the American League. His average in the first inning improved to .419.

A single in the fifth, which followed Valaika’s leadoff single, moved Mullins ahead of Guerrero. And the Orioles moved ahead of the Blue Jays after the runners advanced on Trey Mancini’s deep fly ball to center and Hays singled again.

Eshelman made his first start since Sept. 15, 2000. His only major league win as a starter is Aug. 13, 2020 in Philadelphia.

His career high in innings is 5 2/3 against the Rays on July 14, 2019 at Camden Yards in his second major league appearance. He seemed to be barreling toward it tonight but was removed after 4 2/3 and 57 pitches.

The Blue Jays began the night leading the majors with 103 home runs and ranking second with a .262 average and .772 OPS. Eshelman had a career 5.22 ERA and 1.429 WHIP in 22 major league games. But he didn’t allow a run or hit until Gurriel’s solo homer with one out in the fifth.

Cavan Biggio was the only baserunner with a one-out walk in the second.

Eshelman struck out three batters, on an 80.7 mph slider, 82.6 mph changeup and 78.3 mph slider. He found out earlier today that he’d get the start.

“My only thought process on that was (to) give the team a chance to win,” he said. “That’s a good lineup over there, so just move the ball around, mix speeds and get my team in the dugout pretty quick.”

Gurriel stood at home plate, bat raised, and admired his work, the absolute destruction of a 78 mph slider. Then, Joe Panik singled and Santiago Espinal reached on an infield hit as Wells warmed.

Riley Adams grounded into a force, the double play call overturned, and Wells struck out Marcus Semien before Eshelman could take his third tour through the order. Wells retired the side in order in the sixth and struck out Oriole killer Randal Grichuk on a 96.5 mph fastball to lower his ERA to 3.62.

“His confidence has grown also,” Hyde said.

The Orioles’ lead stayed 2-1 in the fifth after Trent Thornton replaced Ray and struck out Mountcastle and retired Anthony Santander on a pop up to conclude a 12-pitch at-bat and strand two runners.

Galvis’ leadoff single in the sixth was wasted, in large part because of Grichuk’s diving catch that robbed Franco. Mullins was hit by a pitch for the third straight game leading off the seventh and Mancini bounced into a double play.

Another leadoff hitter reaching in the eighth brought much better results. And the Orioles were in desperate need of a more favorable result tonight.

“It’s great, I like the win that we had today,” Mullins said. “Great team effort all around.”

Notes: Triple-A Norfolk’s Zac Lowther tossed five scoreless innings tonight with three hits, one walk and six strikeouts. Four unearned runs scored off Shawn Armstrong in the sixth.

Double-A Bowie’s Gray Fenter tossed five scoreless innings with one hit, two walks and three strikeouts. Single-A Aberdeen’s Kyle Brnovich tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings with one hit, one walk and seven strikeouts. Single-Delmarva’s Ignacio Feliz tossed four scoreless innings with four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts.

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