Before opening a series with the worst team in the American League, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was faced with a series of questions about his lineup. It featured neither Cedric Mullins nor Adley Rutschman, typically the top two hitters in his starting nine, partly for rest ahead of an important stretch in the late-season schedule and partly because the Oakland Athletics were starting a left-hander.
“We have a lot of options right now,” Hyde said before the game. “Never had this many guys on the bench that I want to play. That’s what good teams have. They have depth, and it’s nice to have depth. It’s nice to have really good players on your bench, being able to put them in in maybe the biggest spot of the game.”
That’s exactly what he was able to do Friday night. As the Orioles threatened in the eighth inning of a tie game, Hyde called on both Mullins and Rutschman as pinch-hitters. The A’s intentionally walked Mullins to load the bases, then Rutschman worked the count full to draw his own free pass. That delivered a lead that Jorge Mateo extended with a two-run single, providing the difference in Baltimore’s 5-2 victory to keep pace in the AL wild-card race.
All three of the teams the Orioles are chasing — the Tampa Bay Rays, the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays — also won Friday. The Rays’ defeat of the New York Yankees brought the Orioles (70-61) within 8 1/2 games of the AL East lead with 31 games to play; Baltimore has gained nine games over the division leader in the past month.
“I think we have a lot of confidence right now,” Rutschman said. “I think we have a lot of confidence in each other, in the coaches, the whole staff, just knowing that we’ve got each other’s backs and so I think we can take a lot of solace in that. And it’s cool to have that kind of environment.”
Anthony Santander opened the decisive inning with a walk before Ryan Mountcastle hit a soft grounder to the right side, where Oakland second baseman Jonah Bride indecisively looked to get Santander at second before throwing to first too late to get Mountcastle. Ramón Urías dropped a sacrifice bunt to put two in scoring position, prompting Hyde to call on Mullins in place of newcomer Jesús Aguilar.
After the intentional walk, Austin Hays returned to the dugout for Rutschman, who showed his typical plate discipline to bring in the go-ahead run before Mateo provided two insurance runs.
“We’re playing for our lives right now, and we’re playing to try to catch people,” Hyde said. “We’re playing important games in September. That’s never happened since I’ve been here, so that’s a lot of fun is to play the games that matter and not just trying to play spoiler but play for yourself.
“Check your ego at the door. We’re trying to go win the game somehow, anyhow and anyway.”
Henderson at home
Top prospect Gunnar Henderson arrived at Camden Yards on Friday excited to hear fans yell out “O!” during the national anthem. He gave them plenty more reasons to get loud during his first home game.
Henderson went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and became the first player in team history to start each of his first three games at a different position: third base, shortstop and second. He was the fourth player in the majors to achieve the feat this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The only pure left-handed hitter in the Orioles’ lineup against Oakland lefty JP Sears, Henderson received a lengthy standing ovation before his first home at-bat in the third, with many of the 13,558 announced in attendance remaining on their feet as he swung and missed at the first pitch. A second whiff put him down 0-2, but after a pair of takes on pitches out of the zone, Henderson doubled down the right field line.
Starting behind the plate with Rutschman out of the lineup for the first time since Aug. 17, Robinson Chirinos followed Henderson’s double by blooping one of his one into left. He soon scored the inning’s second run on a single from Mountcastle.
Henderson doubled off another left-hander, Kirby Snead, in the seventh, as the 21-year-old became the third youngest Oriole to double twice in a game behind Brooks Robinson and Manny Machado. He also made the turn at second base after a feed from Mateo on a game-ending double play behind Dillon Tate, with an impressive throw to first netting the final out.
“It was ‘wow,’” Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones.
Right-hander Dean Kremer continued a strong stretch from the Orioles’ rotation with six innings of two-run ball.
It marked the eighth time in the past nine games Baltimore’s starter completed the sixth, matching the total from the team’s previous 42 games. Only once in the past 11 games has a member of the Orioles’ rotation allowed more than two runs, a stretch in which the group has a 1.93 ERA.
“My stuff was the best it’s been all year, without even hesitation,” Kremer said.
After back-to-back shutouts to win a series against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Guardians, Kremer extended the staff’s scoreless streak to 25 innings with four shutout frames to open his outing.
In the fifth, Oakland put runners on second and third against him with no outs and had the bases loaded with two outs. Kremer was a pitch away from getting out of it when A’s leadoff hitter Tony Kemp hit a soft single into center to tie the game.
Kremer retired the final four batters he faced, exiting after 94 pitches. Bryan Baker retired all five men he faced before ceding to Tate, who recorded four outs around the Orioles’ big eighth to finish off the victory.
“We’ve got a special group of guys here,” Kremer said. “Things can take off at any moment, especially late in games when the bullpen comes in and shuts it down and then we’ve gotta face the other bullpen. We’ve done a tremendous job putting up runs late.”
Around the horn
- After throwing 31 pitches for High-A Aberdeen in his first game in three months Thursday, top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez will continue his rehab from a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain early next week with Double-A Bowie, the Orioles said. The five-day turn Rodriguez said he’s on would have him start Tuesday at Prince George’s Stadium.
- Tyler Wells matched Rodriguez by throwing 31 pitches in a rehab start for Aberdeen on Friday, with the right-hander going 2 1/3 innings with three strikeouts as he works his way back from a left oblique strain.
- The Orioles’ second starter for Monday’s doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays could come from either their active roster or from Triple-A Norfolk, Hyde said.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM