Walk-off HR the latest chapter in Rutschman's hot start

April 13th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Add another special moment to the first calendar year of Adley Rutschman’s MLB career.

Many are going to remember the rising star’s first walk-off hit, which was a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday afternoon that lifted the Orioles to an 8-7 win over the A’s at Camden Yards.

Rutschman won’t -- at least not well.

“Honestly, I just kind of blacked out,” said Rutschman, who arrived in the big leagues on May 21 last season. “It’s one of those moments that you hit it and you just kind of start running, because you don’t know what’s going on.”

So let’s break down exactly what went on.

A slugfest between Baltimore and Oakland had finally calmed down. After each team plated seven runs through five innings, neither scored in the sixth, seventh or eighth. The Orioles, whose bullpen has been taxed for much of the first two weeks of the season, turned to closer Félix Bautista for the top of the ninth in a tie game, and he tossed a dominant 1-2-3 inning on just 10 pitches.

The A’s countered with Trevor May, giving the veteran right-hander a challenging assignment. Due up for the Orioles was the heart of their order: Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle and Gunnar Henderson.

“I was looking for [Rutschman] to take a good at-bat, and hopefully, we can get something going leading off the inning and get on base for Mountcastle there,” manager Brandon Hyde said.

May began by pitching Rutschman -- a switch-hitter batting from the left side -- inside, throwing a 93.6 mph four-seam fastball for a ball. The next (and final) offering was a mistake. May left a 93.2 mph heater directly over the middle of the plate, which is something a pitcher cannot do against the 25-year-old Rutschman, last year’s American League Rookie of the Year runner-up.

Rutschman unloaded on the fastball, blasting it a Statcast-projected 405 feet to right-center field at an exit velocity of 104 mph and a launch angle of 32 degrees. There was no doubt that he had won the Orioles the game with one heroic swing. Rutschman’s teammates could tell from the dugout.

“Everybody just jumped up, super happy and excited. We all knew that ball was leaving the park,” shortstop Jorge Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “It’s something that we know [Rutschman is] very capable of, and he’s someone that we’re very thankful to have on this team.”

Fireworks shot out from behind the scoreboard in right-center field. Rutschman rounded third, high-fived third-base coach Tony Mansolino and skipped down the basepath, then flipped his helmet, trotted to the plate and immediately received a Gatorade bath from outfielder Austin Hays.

These were more memories that, for Rutschman, will be a bit fuzzy.

“You’ve just got so much adrenaline going at that point, you don’t really know what’s going on,” Rutschman said. “It’s just cool to celebrate as a team. That’s always a cool energy thing if we’re able to walk it off.”

Rutschman is off to an incredible start to his sophomore season. He has four home runs, three of which have come in the past five games. His first came as part of a 5-for-5 showing on Opening Day, when he lifted the O’s to victory over the Red Sox in Boston.

Rutschman’s second homer was part of a 4-for-4 day against the Yankees on Sunday -- a performance that made him the second player in franchise history with a pair of four-plus-hit contests within the team’s first nine games of a season, joining Baseball Hall of Famer George Sisler of the 1922 St. Louis Browns.

During Baltimore’s 7-6 start, Rutschman has yet to take a day off. He’s started all 13 games -- 10 at catcher (including Thursday) and three at designated hitter. He’s also swinging the Orioles’ hottest bat, slashing .373/.467/.627 and maintaining an active seven-game hitting streak, the longest of his young, budding career.

And when Rutschman comes up in a big spot, Baltimore is learning that it can count on him.

“I think he likes to be up there when the game’s on the line; he likes to be up there in RBI spots,” Hyde said. “And he’s got a lot of confidence.”

This type of production is exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they selected Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft out of Oregon State University and made him the centerpiece of their rebuild. His arrival has coincided with Baltimore’s improved play, as he helped power the team to a breakthrough 83-win season in ‘22. After Rutschman's debut last season, the O's were 67-55.

As Rutschman continues to get more comfortable, he’s spending the early stages of his career making lasting memories -- at least for the fans and those around him, if not for himself.

“Anyone who has time doing something, the more time you do it, the better you know your plan, what you’re trying to do and the more accustomed you are to the way things go,” Rutschman said. “It’s nice to be around these guys that I know and am familiar with, to be able to just work as a team and call these guys good friends.”