For 25.5 innings (nearly 95% of the series), the Orioles and their fans endured one of the most frustrating, if not the most frustrating, series of the year. What made it even more frustrating was aside from Dean Kremer, the Orioles pitched so well this weekend but could only muster one win because the offense was so quiet. And heading into the bottom of the eighth inning of Sunday's finale against the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards, with the Orioles trailing 1-0 after Sonny Gray tossed the third straight gem by a Twins' starter in the series, and another brutal, 1-0 loss and a five-game losing streak felt inevitable.
But finally... and I mean FINALLY... the Orioles broke through, with Aaron Hicks slicing a one-out RBI single to centerfield to break a 19.3-inning scoreless streak and lead the Orioles to a 2-1 win on Sunday afternoon against the Twins. Despite a frustrating weekend resulting in a series loss, the Orioles have still not been swept this season. And as I and many other fans muttered after today's win: "I guess we'll take it."
Baltimore Orioles win series finale to avoid sweep against Minnesota Twins
1. Game 1: Twins 8, Orioles 1
The story of Game 1 was relatively simple. Pablo Lopez (whom the Orioles likely explored acquiring this offseason) and the 40-42 Twins, were running on all cylinders. Dean Kremer and the, at the time, 48-31 Orioles, did not. While Lopez held the Orioles to a solo home run from Adley Rutschman over six innings, Kremer was blasted for seven earned runs over just three innings of work.
The Twins banged out 13 hits, including home runs from Joey Gallo, Max Kepler (who would make a game-saving catch in Game 2) and Byron Buxton. Perhaps the only positive takeaway from this game was the Orioles' bullpen, which threw six quality innings and ensured that bullpen aces Felix Bautista, Yennier Cano, and Danny Coulombe could take the night off.
Another positive: DJ Diesel (aka NBA great Shaquille O'Neal) hosted a fun concert after the game.
2. Game 2: Twins 1, Orioles 0
For the third straight start, Orioles right-hander Kyle Bradish was terrific, striking out seven and allowing just one run over six quality innings. Bradish's one mistake was a two-strike, hanging breaking ball to the powerful Joey Gallo, who clubbed a solo home run to Eutaw Street in the fourth inning to account for the game's only run.
Unlike Bradish, Minnesota's pitching did not make any mistakes, as Bailey Ober, Griffin Jax, and Jhoan Duran combined to three-hit the Orioles sleepy bats and take a 2-0 lead in the series. A series that the Orioles were hoping would right the ship after losing two out of three at home against the Reds had, instead, turned into another loss.
The Orioles' best chance to score came in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Twins' hard-throwing closerJhoan Duran, who allowed a one-out infield single to Adley Rustchman. Jorge Mateo pinch-ran and was initially called out. After review, he was ruled safe at second on a stolen base.
Euphoria in the ballpark, however, turned to disappointment when Max Kepler made an unbelievable sliding catch down the right field line to rob Anthony Santander of a potential game-tying hit. Ryan O'Hearn subsequently bounced out to first, and the Orioles suddenly had a season-worst four-game losing streak.
3. Game 3: Orioles 2, Twins 1
To the Orioles' dismay, Game 3 started out awfully similar to the Orioles' frustrating 1-0 loss in Game 2: the Twins scored one run, their starting pitcher (in this case, Sonny Gray) befuddled the Orioles for multiple innings, and the Orioles, try as they may, simply could not plate a run. In this game, they had their chances, but simply could not break the ice. In the bottom of the third inning, Anthony Bemboom singled and Gunnar Henderson walked with two outs.
But after working the count to 2-0, Adley Rutschman struck out. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Ramon Urias led off with a ringing double to the right-center gap. Jorge Mateo and Gunnar Henderson subsequently reached, loading the bases with two outs for Rutschman again. And again, Rutschman could not come through, skying the first pitch he saw into the waiting glove of Michael A. Taylor in centerfield to end the threat.
The Orioles' luck was no better in innings six and seven. With a runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Ramon Urias flew out. The Orioles went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh and came up searching desperately for offense in the bottom of the eighth inning. It would not be easy, as Jhoan Duran, whom the Orioles had seen less than 24 hours earlier, stood on the mound. Leading off, Gunnar Henderson got ahead of Duran 3-0 before striking out.
Up came Rutschman, who, for the second straight game, managed an infield hit off of Duran. Then Anthony Santander, in what manager Brandon Hyde called the "at-bat of the year," grounded the ninth pitch he saw from Duran (a 98.5 mile per hour splitter) into centerfield, sending Rutschman to third. And as stated above, Aaron Hicks finally broke the ice for the Orioles, lofting a single into center, plating Rutschman, tying the game and finally giving the Orioles a run.
But the Orioles' work was not yet finished, as Hicks' hit only tied the game. Cedric Mullins, whom Hyde moved down to the five-hole, smashed a ball down the right field line that looked destined for the right field corner. Instead, it was snagged by Alex Kirilloff at first, who touched the bag for the second out. Pinch-hitter Ryan O'Hearn was intentionally walked, setting the stage for rookie Jordan Westburg with the bases loaded and two outs.
Westburg literally took one for the team, taking a 101 mile per hour fastball off the right forearm, scoring Santander and giving the Orioles their first lead of the series and first lead since the first inning of Wednesday night's game against the Reds. Said Westburg: "My hope going into the at-bat was to do anything to get that run across and help the team get a win, and if I've got to take a hit by pitch, that's fine."
Lo and behold, it was Mountain Time. All-Star closer Felix Bautista came on and quickly struck out the side, earning his 22nd save, helping the Orioles avoid their fifth straight loss, and hopefully creating some positive momentum for the Orioles, who head to the Bronx for a four-game series against the Yankees.