BALTIMORE -- Anthony Santander and his Orioles teammates stepped out onto the soggy field at Camden Yards on Friday night a bit later than usual. A rain delay of two hours and 32 minutes pushed back the start of the opener between the Yankees and O’s, who were playing in front of their home fans for the first time this year as the first-place team in the American League East.
Much of the announced crowd of 34,558 stuck around for the game. Too much fear of missing out. Too many exciting moments had already taken place in downtown Baltimore over the first four months of the 2023 season, and these people didn’t want to potentially miss the next one.
“Honestly, right before the start of the game, it felt like a playoff game, right away,” Santander said.
Again, the Orioles played a tense postseason-like contest. Again, they found a way to win it.
After 8 1/2 innings of scoreless baseball, Santander sent the energetic, orange-clad supporters home happy. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, he blasted a walk-off home run to deep right-center field, lifting Baltimore, 1-0, in its 20th one-run win and fifth shutout victory of the season.
There was no doubt Santander got all of a low 2-0 changeup thrown by New York right-hander Tommy Kahnle. The 28-year-old outfielder clubbed the offering a Statcast-projected 425 feet at an exit velocity of 107.9 mph for his team-high 18th home run of the season -- his third career walk-off hit and second game-ending homer.
Santander followed through on his swing, casually flipped his bat and flexed his muscles at his teammates in the first-base dugout.
“I put a good swing on it, and I said, ‘I got it,’” Santander said. “I looked right to my teammates.”
As the clock read 12:12 a.m. ET, Santander trotted around the bases and met those teammates at home plate. He tossed his helmet, received a Gatorade bath and celebrated the Orioles’ fifth walk-off victory of the season as the crowd roared in excitement at the thrilling conclusion.
“Tonight was pretty special,” right-hander Grayson Rodriguez said. “I’m glad the O’s fans stayed. I know it was a late one, but man, it was exciting.”
It was an especially special night for Rodriguez, whose 13th big league start was his best yet. He completed six innings for the first time and dazzled over 6 1/3 terrific frames, going toe to toe with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.
Rodriguez allowed three hits and two walks while striking out four, finding success with a simple, aggressive approach -- throw a lot of fastballs and a lot of strikes. The 23-year-old right-hander tossed 55 four-seamers and located 70 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
The Yankees were equally aggressive, swinging 54 times against Rodriguez. His heater proved to be too much, though, as he induced eight whiffs with the pitch, which averaged 98.3 mph and touched 100.4. He threw four harder than 100 mph after hitting triple digits only six previous times (all on July 17 vs. the Dodgers, the first of his three outings since returning from a demotion to the Minors).
“So proud of Grayson,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s just scratching the surface of what kind of starting pitcher he can be. He showed tonight what he has -- it’s an overpowering fastball, slider’s getting better and better, bad swings on his changeup. Just presence and command against a really tough lineup.”
In a well-pitched, well-played game on both sides, Cole was equally impressive. He blanked the Orioles for seven innings and allowed three hits, all singles.
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s defense behind Rodriguez and its relievers kept it in the game.
Gold Glove third baseman Ramón Urías made a diving stop for the final out of the fifth to retire Anthony Volpe -- who was robbed again via a sprawling catch in right field by Santander in the eighth.
Adam Frazier made a pair of nice stops at second base, laying out to retire Ben Rortvedt for the final out of the third and Anthony Rizzo to end the eighth. The latter prevented a run from scoring, as New York stranded a pair in the inning.
“Our defense has been phenomenal,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hands down the best in the league right now. Every night, there are spectacular plays being made.”
Added Hyde: “Defense won us the game.”
It all set the stage for Santander, who has been in Baltimore for all seven of his big league seasons -- none more fun than the present one.
The AL-best Orioles (63-40) have an opportunity this weekend to accomplish something they haven’t done since 2016: win a season series vs. the Yankees. So far, Baltimore is 6-5 against New York with only two meetings remaining -- Saturday and Sunday, which will be broadcast on ESPN for Sunday Night Baseball.
If those games are anything like Friday’s contest, Orioles supporters will want to be here.
“The O’s fans packed a lot of energy in the ballpark tonight. Man, that was electric,” Rodriguez said. “That was a lot of fun. By far the best environment I’ve ever pitched in, hands down. Hats off to the fans tonight.”