An organization that’s emphasizing drafting and developing, talent infusion and patience isn’t going to find many soft spots in its major league schedule. The challenges just get more daunting for stretches, especially in the American League East. The heights from the tightrope seem to reach the clouds. The falls that much harder.
The Orioles weren’t the team crashing to the ground tonight.
Jorge López went from rattled early to unhittable through the fifth inning, his run support included four solo homers and the Orioles began their series in the Bronx with a 7-1 victory over the Yankees.
Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays hit back-to-back home runs in the third inning, the second time they’ve done it this season, Ryan Mountcastle and Ramón Urías homered in the fourth, López allowed one run and one hit in six frames and the Orioles improved to 38-67. They’re now 5-6 versus the Yankees, who outscored them 53-31 and outhomered them 17-8 in the first 10 games.
Mullins pulled a 92 mph fastball to right field for his 18th home run of the season, two short of his stolen base total, and Hays turned a 91 mph fastball into his 11th for a 2-0 lead in Andrew Heaney’s debut with the Yankees.
Mountcastle hit his 18th in the fourth, giving the Orioles three homers among four batters. Urías clobbered his fifth, giving them four within six batters, and Pedro Severino just missed, settling for a double off the right-center field fence. Urías had the longest of the group at 414 feet.
The Orioles were two homers shy of their season high set on June 19 against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. They lost that game. They held on tonight, a big moment coming in the seventh when César Valdez put the first two runners on base and got a double play. Paul Fry tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
Joey Gallo led off the sixth inning with a double to right-center field for the first hit off López, who had walked five batters and hit one. López stranded him and completed six innings for the first time since June 22, with manager Brandon Hyde pushing him to a season-high 106 pitches.
“It was good progress,” López said on Zoom. “I feel good. Just trying to get my mental health, just getting better through the games. I felt like I was aggressive. I just never gave up today. And the guys did everything for me.”
López completed the fifth inning for the first time in seven starts and the second in 10. He walked the first two batters in the fifth and the Yankees scored on two fly balls, the second resulting in a tremendous leaping catch by Hays in foul territory in left field that resulted in an Anthony Rizzo sacrifice fly. López struck out Aaron Judge on three pitches and yelled twice on his walk to the dugout.
“Just really proud of him,” Hyde said on his Zoom call. “Guy’s been dealing with a ton. You saw it there in the fifth, a couple walks, could have unraveled on him. He really composed himself. Saw him take a couple deep breaths on the mound. It was just a really nice piece of pitching. And then going back out there for the sixth and completing the sixth inning, also.
“This is an All-Star lineup and I just thought, for me, that was our most complete game of the year in all phases. We walked too many, but we had really good pitching, we ran the bases extremely well, played really solid defense with some really nice plays ... and we situationally hit and hit the ball out of the ballpark a few times. It was just a complete game by us.”
The schedule has toughened for the Orioles, with the month also including 10 games against the Rays, three each against the Red Sox, Braves and Angels and two against the Blue Jays before that three-game series concludes on Sept. 1. Then, it’s back to the Bronx as the Orioles keep confronting division opponents.
They have a four-game series against the Blue Jays in Baltimore, including a doubleheader, followed by three versus the Yankees and trips to Boston and Philadelphia. The season concludes with three games against the Red Sox and three in Toronto.
Heading into tonight, the Orioles were playing 13 of their next 16 games within the division and 22 of 31.
“It’s a huge challenge these last two months,” Hyde said this afternoon. “All four teams in our division are already excellent teams and they all got better and we play them quite a bit. It’s a nice test for our guys. We’re not going to back down from the challenge, but it’s a tough schedule just because these teams are loaded up and they’re trying to get there in October and they’ve got October-type lineups.
“Not going to be easy. It’s the schedule that’s given and we’re going to do our best.”
Hyde’s team was surrounded by buyers at the trade deadline. It’s a whole other world.
The Yankees lineup tonight included Judge wedged between newly acquired Rizzo and Gallo. The Orioles, meanwhile, acquired a Single-A pitcher and cash considerations in their two deals.
“It is what it is, it’s tough to explain,” Hyde said. “It’s our third year, we’re not in position to make postseason runs yet and the other four teams in our division are, so we play them half of our schedule. It’s a tough test. We’re just not in that position, but hopefully soon. It’s going to be nice the day we’re acquiring at the deadline and improving our club. We’re just not there yet.”
López escaped a jam in the first inning, throwing 22 pitches, hitting a batter, walking one and committing a balk when he tried to correct himself after setting up in the windup. Plate umpire Mark Ripperger ignored a pitch clearly in the zone and gave first base to Gallo with two outs, but Maikel Franco charged Giancarlo Stanton’s slow roller, made a barehand pickup and threw him out.
Pitching coach Chris Holt made a trip to the mound with two outs in the second inning after López issued his third walk of the game. DJ LeMahieu grounded out on the next pitch, the 40th from López. Only 18 were strikes.
A 17-pitch third inning didn’t feature any baserunners and included called third strikes on Judge and Gallo.
López returned to mound in the bottom of the fourth with a 4-0 lead, and it would have been more except Gallo raced back and made a leaping catch in left to rob Franco and keep Severino at second base. López retired the side in order again on only seven pitches and survived the treacherous fifth, which left his count at 83.
Mullins singled in the fifth off former Orioles farmhand Joely Rodríguez - he already extended his hitting streak to 11 games with the home run - and swiped second and third base but was stranded.
Both of Mullins’ hits came against left-handers. He began the night slashing .323/.384/.511 against them.
Anthony Santander led off the sixth with a single. Rodríguez committed a balk, walked Urías and threw a wild pitch, and Severino lifted a sacrifice fly to left for a 5-1 lead. Urías raced to third and scored on Franco’s fly ball.
Mountcastle reached on an infield single to lead off the eighth, raced to third on Santander’s single, giving the outfielder back-to-back multi-hit games, and scored when Urías grounded into a double play.
The Orioles were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position but had seven runs. The club record for most runs without a hit with RISP, going back to 1974, was eight against the Angels on May 28, 1987, per STATS. The major league record is shared at 11.
López stranded Gallo with a strikeout and two fly balls, received lots of hugs in the dugout, including one from Hyde, and the Orioles improved to 13-26 in a division that’s going to keep coming after them.
“It was awesome,” Mullins said. “Everyone is aware of the struggles he’s had going into some of the later innings. He’s always had really good stuff and today he was able to command all of his pitches and keep the damage to a minimum.”
“This is a major payroll team with superstars and guys who make a ton of dough for a reason,” Hyde said, “so it’s a tough place to play and I’m really proud of our guys. We played super-scrappy tonight and it started with Lopie on the mound. Bullpen guys were good. But I thought we were really scrappy as a club.”
Note: Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Gerrit Cole tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t start Tuesday night.