In a season chock full of episodes of Orioles Magic, this weekend's series win over the Seattle Mariners may take the proverbial (crab) cake. It was a series that left both Orioles and Mariners fans alike speechless.
Orioles take two of three from Mariners with heroics abound
While the Orioles welcomed back centerfielder Cedric Mullins and outstanding broadcaster Kevin Brown, the series did not start off so great. After suffering a 9-2 loss in Friday night's opener in Seattle against the Mariners, the Orioles rebounded in an incredible way: they won the second game of the series, despite being shut out for nine innings by Seattle righthander George Kirby.
They then topped that on Sunday with Cedric Mullins following a catch-of-the-year candidate with a game-winning home run, all within minutes of each other. By winning 2 out of 3 in Seattle, the Orioles not only stopped the Mariners' 8-game winning streak, but themselves maintained a three-game lead on the Rays for first place in the American League East.
1. Game 1: Mariners 9, Orioles 2
Much like the Orioles' three-game series against Seattle in June, the Mariners decisively won Game 1 of the series. The Mariners beat the Orioles 13-1 in a rain-soaked game at Camden Yards two months ago, and defeated the Orioles in Game 1 at T-Mobile Park on Friday night, 9-2. There wasn't much to say about this game, except that Kyle Gibson, who had seemingly turned a corner, struggled, allowing 9 runs on 12 hits in 5.1 innings.
The only bright spots for the Orioles were: (a) 2.2 scoreless innings from Jacob Webb and Nick Vespi, allowing bullpen ace Felix Bautista another day of rest (more on this later); (b) a solo home run from Anthony Santander; and (c) that it was, truly, just one bad game.
2. Game 2: Orioles 1, Mariners 0 (10 innings)
What a game. Saturday night featured an old-fashioned pitcher's duel that saw the game go scoreless through nine innings. Making his first start since July 7 against the Twins as a result of the new six-man rotation, Cole Irvin twirled 5 shutout innings, touching the mid-90s with his fastball and showing terrific movement on his secondary pitches.
The bullpen kept putting up zeroes, with Mike Baumann, Jacob Webb, Cionel Perez and Yennier Cano keeping the game scoreless through 8. In a scoreless game, it became Mountain Time, and Felix Bautista worked around a two-out single to left-fielder Cade Marlowe to push the game to the 10th.
That's because while the Orioles' pitchers were dominating, Seattle starter George Kirby was somehow even better. Kirby threw a shutout: nine innings, allowing no runs and only 3 hits. In fact, after Ryan Mountcastle's single to right in the top of the second, the Orioles did not get another hit until Austin Hays' two-out single off of Kirby in the eighth. The Orioles managed another hit off Kirby in the ninth but did not score.
In the top of the tenth, ghost runner Cedric Mullins stole third base without a throw. Anthony Santander bounced out, leaving Mullins stuck on third base. Just when it seemed like no one would score and the game would go into the wee hours of the morning, Ryan Mountcastle socked a ground ball past a draw-in infield into centerfield, driving in Mullins and finally putting a run on the board.
Then, as he has done so many times before, Felix Bautista threw a second, flawless inning, stranding Seattle's ghost-runner at second base by striking out the side in the bottom of the tenth. Said manager Brandon Hyde: "What he has done this entire season is unbelievable. There are no other closers that are doing that. Five-out save in Toronto. Ninth, 10th innings, what he is doing and doing it in the fashion he is too."
A nail-biting, tense, extra-inning thriller went to the Orioles.
3. Game 3: Orioles 5, Mariners 3 (10 innings)
As spine-tingling as Game 2 of this series was, Game 3 was arguably better. It started out innocuously enough, with each team scoring a run in the third inning. With the game tied at 1 entering the bottom of the fifth, the Mariners mounted a two-out rally against Kyle Bradish with a two-run double by Julio Rodriguez plating Seattle's second run of the game and giving the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
Undaunted, the Orioles tied the game with two out in the top of the sixth on Austin Hays' RBI single to left. At this time, Cedric Mullins quietly entered the game as a defensive replacement for Ryan O'Hearn, shifting Hays to left field.
The Orioles' bullpen continued its dominant series thereafter, keeping the game tied at 1 heading into the ninth following scoreless innings from Cionel Perez and Yennier Cano. The Orioles took the lead in the ninth, with pinch runner Jorge Mateo advancing to third on a balk and scoring on a mad dash to home plate following Adley Rutschman's ground ball to the pitcher. While Mateo has greatly struggled with the bat since April, there is no denying that his speed can be, and is -game-changing.
Usually, it would be Mountain Time, but with Bautista throwing 2 innings the night before, Brandon Hyde turned to usually-dependable righty Mike Baumann to protect a 3-2 lead. The ninth started innocently enough: Teoscar Hernandez popped out to first. Up came Ty France, who ambushed a Mike Baumann breaking ball to dead centerfield. My description watching from my TV at home does not do the play justice, but Cedric Mullins, sunglasses down, raced to the wall, leapt, and literally pulled France's fly ball back from home run territory into his glove for the second out.
Simply incredible, and perhaps the best catch Mullins has ever made in a long list of amazing catches. Considering the stakes - a critical, rubber game against another playoff team, while nursing a one run lead, and Mullins' home run-robbing catch takes the cake. It literally left me speechless (cue to my wife, Amelia, asking me what I wanted for dinner as France hit the ball, and the delay in me answering).
But it's never easy, and as is the case with the 2023 Orioles, they have to work for everything they earn. The celebration was brief, as with Seattle down to their final out, Dominic Canzone blasted a solo home run so far and so deep that even Cedric Mullins couldn't catch it. The game was tied at 3, Baumann had blown the save, and Nick Vespi came on to get the final out.
More extra-inning baseball on tap. Not at all lost on the Orioles and their fans was that Mullins' incredible catch was a game winner - if he had not caught that, Canzone's solo home run would have won the game for the Mariners. With some life, and another chance to win, the Orioles would not disappoint.
Anthony Santander, who led off the tenth inning the day before, swung at the first pitch and bounced to second, advancing ghost-runner Gunnar Henderson to third. That brought up Cedric Mullins, who proceeded to club a blast down the right field line. The ball hooked foul by inches, and Orioles' fans sighed.
One foot to the right, He then obliged, launching a ball deep into the right field seats on a 3-2 pitch, keeping it far and giving the Orioles a 5-3 lead. Mullins had saved the game with a homerun-robbing catch and, for good measure, hit a home run of his own.
Shintaro Fujinami, who hadn't pitched all weekend after a rough outing against Houston last week, pitched an uneventful ninth inning. When Julio Rodriguez grounded out to short to end the game, the Orioles and their fans could embrace an incredible series win over what had been arguably the hottest team in baseball coming in. Said backup catcher James McCann:
"You see guys make incredible defensive plays and you see guys come up with big hits. But not many times do you see someone make that play, hit a homer foul and then hit a homer. Especially for a guy that didn’t start the game. Words don’t really describe how big he was for us today. One of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen"- James McCann on Cedric Mullins
McCann was rightfully speechless. He was unable to fully describe the impact Cedric Mullins, who did not even start, had on the game. That is how many Orioles fans felt watching Saturday and Sunday's heart-pounding thrillers. If you needed proof as to what a magical season it has been, look no further than this past weekend in Seattle.