TORONTO - The Orioles still are not coming up with the clutch hits with runners in scoring position very often and they are not producing many runs. But they did produce a huge win last night.
Yep, they were resilient again. Just as talk was heating up that the Orioles were playing their way out of the postseason, they came up with two huge home runs to stun the Toronto Blue Jays.
Through seven innings Wednesday night, the Orioles were being shutout. To that point in this series, they were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position and had struck out 23 times in 16 innings.
But then Mark Trumbo, who has hit some big homers in recent weeks, hit his 46th and it was a 2-1 game. In the ninth, Hyun Soo Kim hit one of the most dramatic of the Orioles’ 247 homers on the year. His pinch-hit two-run shot off Jays closer Roberto Osuna provided a 3-2 lead and three outs later a huge win.
Two outs from falling three games back of Toronto, now the Orioles could tie the Blue Jays for the first American League wild card with a victory tonight. At the same time, they are working to hold onto the second wild card. In that chase, they lead Detroit by one game, Seattle by two and Houston by 3 1/2 games. The O’s series win earlier this month in Detroit looks very big right now.
Meanwhile, Kim is now 6-for-9 with a double, homer and two RBIs as a pinch-hitter, slugging 1.111 with an OPS of 1.838.
“There’s no secret as to why I’ve been so successful pinch-hitting,” Kim said through interpreter Danny Lee in the Orioles clubhouse last night. “I’m just happy I’m put into that situation because it’s always clutch situations. So I’m enjoying and I’m doing well with it. I really try to be ready when I have to hit and that helps me a lot.”
Kim smiled when asked how this ranked among all the homers he has hit in the pro ranks, including his years in the Korean Baseball Organization.
“First. It’s no. 1. No. 1,” he said.
Even though Kim’s homer was a hit with a RISP - Michael Bourn was on second at the time - skipper Buck Showalter doesn’t think that one swing means a lot for his team’s struggles in those spots. Over the last 11 games, the Orioles are 8-for-67 (.119) with RISP.
“(It means) nothing. Not nothing,” Showalter said. “It helps us win a ballgame and (today) you’re going to face a hot pitcher in (Marcus) Stroman. You sleep on it, wake up tomorrow and try to do it again. Nothing means anything else is going to happen. Not in this division. Not with a club as good as they are. Good night for us in the end. I thought Trumbo’s home run kind of got some positive vibes back in the game.”
On a night Toronto batters went 0-for-10 versus the Orioles bullpen, it was Brian Duensing who got a huge out and became the winning pitcher. He struck out pinch-hitter Melvin Upton Jr. with the bases loaded and two outs in the last of the eighth.
“I told him on the mound, ‘You get an out here, we’re going to get you a W,’ ” Showalter said. “Of course, I say that to everybody. Five or six days off and to come in with that type of command. That is the epitome of a team win with a lot of people contributing.”
Trumbo talked about homers, once again, carrying the Orioles offense.
“We’re up there trying to do the best we can,” he said. “It just so happens that the home runs are a big part of who we are and as an offense I think we take a lot of pride in executing in as many situations as we can, but when you look at our team overall, I think most people see us as a big home run-hitting team.”
With those 247 homers, the 2016 Orioles now rank with the sixth-most in major league history. The Orioles would need to hit 10 in the final four games to tie and 11 to pass the 1996 Orioles, who hold the club record with 257 home runs.
Trumbo is moving up the club’s single-season homer list:
53 - Chris Davis, 2013
50 - Brady Anderson, 1996
49 - Frank Robinson, 1966
47 - Chris Davis, 2015
46 - Jim Gentile, 1961, and Mark Trumbo, 2016
Trumbo talked about being in these critical games in the regular season’s final week.
“It’s why you play, especially this time of the year,” he said. “You want to have a chance to go out there and do something special. We’ve got the team to do it, and I think coming back and overcoming some of these obstacles has been one of our biggest strengths.”
The Orioles are now 4-68 when trailing after eight innings and Toronto is 77-4 when leading after eight. Last night marked the third time in the last four games that Toronto has blown a lead in the ninth inning. They won one of those games.
Kim’s blast was the Orioles’ second pinch-hit homer of the year. Nolan Reimold hit a two-run pinch-hit walk-off homer on July 24 against Cleveland.
There were so many things important to that win - Chris Tillman’s outing, Reimold’s defense, the bullpen overall - but let’s not forget what happened in the ninth. While Osuna blew a second straight save for the first time in his career, Zach Britton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 47th save in 47 chances. He once again made a one-run lead on the road in the ninth stand up. His Cy Young Award chances must be trending up.
The Orioles have won four of five games - a stretch during which they have scored just 15 runs. But over the five games O’s pitchers have allowed 2, 1, 1, 5 and 2 runs.
The team ERA in those games is 1.72, with the starters pitching to an ERA of 2.59 and the bullpen ERA at 0.00 over 15 2/3 innings. In the club’s last 15 games, the bullpen ERA is 0.67.
For a long time last night, a playoff berth looked to be slipping away from this team. But when that baseball soared over the right field wall in the ninth inning, hopes were renewed and there must have been some crazy cheering back home throughout Birdland.