Gary Sánchez drove a fastball to deep center field tonight in the second inning, flipping his bat on the backswing, and began his trip around the bases. Where else was he going after making that kind of contact?
Cedric Mullins sprinted to the ball, timed his leap at the fence and reached high above it, came down, hopped twice to his left - sticking the landing wasn’t important in this event - and flipped it to Austin Hays.
Hays would flip the lead later and watch it spin back.
John Means had a huge smile on his face as he pointed at Mullins and drifted back toward the dugout, the final out recorded and two-run deficit avoided in spectacular fashion. Sánchez turned his head and looked at Mullins in disbelief.
The smart strategy by the Yankees was to avoid Mullins’ territory and the surrounding areas. Also smart would have been pitching more carefully to Hays and finding a way to make his two home runs dictate the outcome.
Gio Urshela hit a two-run homer in the third inning after Brett Gardner’s leadoff single, the ball traveling 397 feet to left-center field and Ryan McKenna only able to chase it and count the rows. Former Orioles Rule 5 pick Néstor Cortes Jr. tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings until Hays’ solo homer, which held up as the last run of the night until Hays batted again in the eighth.
With Austin Wynns at third base and two outs, Hays homered on a two-strike pitch from Chad Green to give the Orioles a lead and a whiff of victory, but Gardner’s bloop single off Tyler Wells in the ninth scored two runs and handed the Yankees a 4-3 win before an announced crowd of 10,402 at Camden Yards.
Hays has three multi-homer games this season, the most recent in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Wells was trying to notch his third save after Saturday’s blown opportunity, but his sudden slump, with only one batter retired tonight, lowered the Orioles’ record to 46-99 overall and 7-11 against the Yankees.
The 99th loss gives the Orioles 444 over the past five seasons, including a truncated 2020, after they won 444 games between 2012-16.
Wells put the first two batters on base by walking Luke Voit and allowing a single to Gleyber Torres. Sánchez flied out, the Yankees executed a double steal, with the call upheld after a review, and Brett Gardner dumped a single over shortstop Richie Martin’s head as the rain fell and umpires ordered the grounds crew off the field.
With the Orioles down to one healthy catcher, Wynns led off the eighth with a single and Torres settled for the out at first base after fielding Mullins’ sharp ground ball. Green almost took a bite out of his glove, another moment of disbelief on the night.
They kept coming.
A wild pitch moved Wynns to third, Mountcastle struck out and Hays walloped a 97 mph fastball for his 20th home run of the season.
Means came within an out of his fourth quality start in five outings and a career-high 12th this season. He walked Voit on his 103rd pitch with two down in the sixth and Conner Greene replaced him.
The Urshela homer was the extent of any real damage off Means, who allowed two runs and four hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He retired seven in a row before walking Voit.
“Tough loss, tough loss,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We did a lot of really good things and a blooper beat us, which is unfortunate. A two-strike blooper. Mullins’ defense, Hays’ unbelievable, Meansie battled.”
A two-out walk to Torres in the second was followed by Sánchez’s loud contact and Mullins’ resounding rebuttal. A 5-foot-8 player nearing the first 30/30 season in franchise history proving that he also can take away home runs.
“Anytime a ball goes in the air to center field, I think Cedric has a chance of catching it, to be honest,” Means said. “That was the most incredible catch. That and Stevie (Wilkerson’s) at the end of 2019 (in Boston) were my top two catches that I’ve ever seen live. That was incredible.
“I thought it was gone and typical Cedric, he doesn’t show off very much, so he just nonchalantly pulled it out of his glove and threw it in and I was in awe. That’s it, really.”
“I think it was definitely better than the one I had made in a similar spot right there,” Hays said. “He can definitely get up higher than I can. I was yelling, ‘Get up, rob it,’ and he jumped even higher than I thought he could. It was an unbelievable catch.”
Hyde said the dugout “exploded.”
“He deked me, also,” Hyde said. “I wasn’t sure if he had caught the ball and I went on Hays’ reaction, hoping that Hays was right. And then when he showed the ball, the dugout erupted, so it was a heck of a catch.”
Urshela’s homer from the bottom of the order was the 26th surrendered by Means.
“I didn’t really have anything going tonight, to be honest,” Means said. “My curveball was pretty brutal the whole night, and the changeup was a lot harder than it usually is and I wasn’t really sure why. And really, I just had the fastball and that was it. Locating the fastball really saved me. Didn’t feel great, but I liked that I battled through.”
By striking out the side in the fourth, Cortes set his career high with eight in his 61st career game and 13th start. Valaika singled with one out in the fifth, but Gutiérrez struck out and Urshela made a diving catch to rob Wynns.
Hays hit his first of two home runs with two outs in the sixth after Mullins and Mountcastle struck out.
Hays went 21-for-68 (.309) with six doubles and four home runs in September 2019 and 20-for-53 (.377) with three homers in the final month last summer. He’s totaled six home runs in 13 games this month and collected 16 hits in 53 at-bats (.302).
“Unfortunately, I’ve gotten hurt in the middle of the season or early in the year,” Hays said, “and then when I come back from the injuries it takes me a little bit to get going. The last two years September has been the time where I’ve come back and my body starts to feel good and I start to feel healthy. At the same time I’ve also been playing every day now, as opposed to when I was having more issues, I wasn’t really playing every day because we were trying to rest.
“I think just the combination of feeling better and also being on the field on a consistent basis, just those two things together the last couple years in September has allowed me to put up some numbers.”
A four-pitch walk to McKenna with one out in the seventh brought Green into the game. Cortes, with one run and three hits allowed and 11 strikeouts, was rescued by a routine fly ball and strikeout.
Means stranded two in the fourth after singles by Giancarlo Stanton and Torres, his 80th pitch striking out Gardner. He retired the side in order in the fifth on 14 pitches, came back out for the sixth and recorded two outs on two pitches before losing Voit.
Means hasn’t earned a win since July 31 and hasn’t posted a victory against a division opponent since opening day in Boston.
The Orioles began the night averaging 3.63 runs in his starts. They’ve scored one in his last three outings while he’s been in the game and totaled one run or fewer 10 times.
Greene stranded the runner he inherited from Means and left Gardner on third base in the seventh. Cole Sulser retired the side in order in the eighth on a strikeout and two ground balls and was in line to earn the win until the latest meltdown.
“Tyler made a really good pitch to Brett Gardner,” Hyde said, noting how the veteran hit a “sand wedge” into left.
“I think Tyler is fine. We all have to remember where Tyler Wells was a couple years ago and how hard the last three outs are in the American League East. That’s why closers make money and that’s why closers usually pitch for a while before they move into the closer role, and Tyler Wells is just getting his feet wet in the big leagues and I’m putting him in really, really difficult spots. So, that’s on me if I’m putting him in a spot. I just think the guy can handle it. I love the makeup, I think he’s going to be a heck of a major league pitcher for a long time.”
The score held at 4-3 after Dillon Tate replaced Wells, threw a wild pitch and DJ LeMahieu grounded to Valaika, who threw home for the out. Valaika ranged beyond second base to backhand Aaron Judge’s grounder and throw across his body.
The second-best defensive play of the game.
Neither one could deter the Yankees.
“That was a tough one for us,” Hays said. “I thought Cortes threw the ball really well against us tonight. He mixed it up really well. We found a way to get his pitch count up and get him out of the game and get to the bullpen and we were able to force the issue a little bit and get the lead, but just unfortunate we weren’t able to hold onto it tonight.”
Notes: Adley Rutschman hit his second triple in two nights for Triple-A Norfolk and Robert Neustrom hit his eighth home run.. Ofelky Peralta allowed two runs and struck out eight batters in 4 1/3 innings. Paul Fry replaced him and walked a batter in two-thirds of an inning.
Double-A Bowie’s Grayson Rodriguez allowed one run and four hits in five innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. Toby Welk hit his 11th home run. Welk, Jordan Westburg, Patrick Dorrian, Johnny Rizer and Chris Hudgins each had two hits in a 5-4, 10-inning win.
Single-A Aberdeen’s Conner Loeprich struck out eight batters in five innings, but also allowed four runs and six hits.
First-rounder Colton Cowser had a two-run single for Single-A Delmarva.