Hays turned around, made eye contact with Cedric Mullins and offered the same sign. Mullins, in return, waved his index finger at Hays.
Was it a running home run count, with Mullins needing one more for 30 that night and Hays needing three to reach 25?
“Yeah, that’s what it was,” Hays confirmed yesterday after taking his rounds of batting practice. And before Mullins could have made a fist in the second inning with his milestone homer.
Hays said he was sitting on 15 home runs when an idea was born and later adjusted as he heated up at the plate.
“It was kind of tough in the middle of the year. If I could just somehow find a way to get to 20, I’d be happy with that,” he said. “And then it was like, I started hitting homers left and right. I hit 20 and I said, ‘Maybe I can get to 25.’
“It’s just kind of an ongoing thing now. All right, what’s our next goal, what’s our next achievement we’re going to try to get to?”
What if Hays hits his 25th and there are more games left to play? He’s collected eight this month.
“Maybe five more,” he said, laughing. “Or maybe it would just be just one more each day for the rest of the year.”
* Mullins stormed into the 30/30 club last night, the first Oriole granted entrance, with his home run in the second inning.
There were no assurances that he’d be the starting center fielder in 2021. That he’d even make the team. He had to earn it.
Mullins ran with the opportunity, but no one ever questioned his speed.
“Coming into this season, I had my own personal goals, which at the time didn’t involve 30/30,” he said. “It was a 20/20 mindset, and when I reached that it was a matter of readjusting and continue to move toward the future and continue to be competitive.”
The consistency has been mindboggling. The 11-game hitting streak to begin the season, including a 5-for-5 game on April 4, wasn’t a torch that would go cold.
“It’s definitely a daily process,” he said. “One of those situations where you do have a hot start and it’s a very long year and you see the opposite in terms of guys struggling at the beginning but finishing hot, as well. I just wanted to lock it in every single day, continue to focus day in and day out and know my routine was working and just staying consistent.
“There are moments when I wasn’t feeling my best and I might have had small struggles, but it was a matter of kind of diving deep into my at-bats sooner rather than later and trying to figure out what adjustments I could make to compensate for how I was feeling. And I’ve been really good at that this year and it’s been awesome.”
Mullins is still wrapping his head around the idea that he’s the first 30/30 player in franchise history.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t even know if I’ve truly processed it yet.”
The affection from teammates last night was genuine. It showed again, ironically, as they abandoned Mullins in the top of the third inning. Allowing him to stand alone on the field to bask in another warm ovation.
“He’s extremely well-liked,” Hyde said. “He’s an incredible guy, teammates love him. And they also know the journey that he’s gone through, and adversity.”
Hyde considers how Mullins had to be optioned in April 2019 and spend the rest of the summer in the minors, tumbling down to Double-A Bowie. The decision to bat exclusively from the left side. The perception among some folks in the industry that his ceiling was fourth outfielder.
Has Mullins authored the most surprising breakthrough season that Hyde has encountered in his years in baseball?
“Hands down, yes,” he replied, with no hesitation. “I don’t think anybody saw 30 homers. I think there was a chance of 30 stolen bases just because of how fast he is. But 30-plus doubles, 30-plus homers, that’s rare in the game.”
* Let yesterday’s news that pitcher Keegan Akin must undergo core muscle surgery serve as the latest lesson that we don’t always know what’s happening behind the scenes.
This injury didn’t sneak up on Akin a couple days ago. Hyde stated yesterday that the rookie has been bothered by it “for a while now.” Along with the usual fatigue that sets in over the final weeks.
Akin was removed from his Sept. 17 start in Boston after only four innings and 88 pitches. He wasn’t pushed behind 5 1/3 innings and 90 pitches Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
The leash might have been a little longer if he wasn’t hurting. But we don’t always know. Just like outfielder DJ Stewart’s right knee osteochondral defect that we’re told has been an issue for a few months.
The lack of media access in the clubhouse prevents us from seeing which players are walking around with ice packs strapped to their bodies.
* An ice pack isn’t going to do much good for catcher Austin Wynns.
There can’t be a tougher player on this club. Hyde agreed when I asked yesterday.
Wynns had blood dripping from the side of his face after being hit by Randy Arozarena’s backswing on July 21 at Tropicana Field, but he stayed in the game.
More painful was the foul ball Thursday night that struck Wynns in a bad area. And not the kind you saw on “The Wire.”
To put it as delicately as possible, Wynns was hit in the groin and remained on the ground, grimacing and trying to catch his breath before he could catch a fastball. But again, he refused to leave the game.
“The cuts-on-the-face night, he looked like a gladiator,” Hyde said, “and then (Thursday) night, that one took him to his knees. He stayed there for a little while, understandably so.”
Don’t mess with Austin Wynns. Don’t run on him and don’t mess with him.
* The roster moves are coming fast and furious this month, but reliever Paul Fry remains with Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles optioned Fry on Aug. 29 after he served up Joey Wendle’s grand slam. He posted a 1.78 ERA in his first 26 appearances and an 11.05 ERA in the next 26.
The Rays did the most damage, with Fry registering a 34.71 ERA against them.
The former trade chip hasn’t returned to Camden Yards. He’s appeared in eight games with Norfolk and allowed six runs and five hits with eight walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Fry hasn’t pitched since Sunday, but I checked and he’s healthy. He hasn’t allowed a run or hit in his last three appearances over 2 2/3 innings, but he’s walked three batters.
Hyde was asked yesterday if Fry could be added to the roster within the last eight games of the season.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
“I’m following him. I follow what our Triple-A guys are doing and I want to see him pitch well down there.”