TORONTO -- At this point, there looks like only one thing standing between Austin Hays and the Orioles’ everyday center-field job: the offseason.
Hays continued his sensational September showing with the most complete performance of his brief Major League career in Monday’s 11-10 loss to the Blue Jays in 15 innings at Rogers Centre. The outfielder homered twice as part of a career-high five-RBI night, while making two more highlight-reel worthy defensive plays before Baltimore’s bullpen coughed up three late-inning leads.
The Blue Jays eventually won on Anthony Alford‘s walk-off homer off Ryan Eades in the 15th, which ended the five-hour, 21-minute contest.
Hays pulled a three-run homer in the third and lined an opposite-field shot in the fifth off Clay Buchholz, then punched an RBI single in the eighth. The O’s also received go-ahead homers from Jonathan Villar, Rio Ruiz and Chris Davis in what was a marathon back-and-forth affair.
“My first half of that game, it's nice that it started well, but that was yesterday,” Hays said in a quiet postgame clubhouse. “It’s tough that we suffered the loss tonight and we couldn’t pull it out.”
In between, Hays took extra bases away from Jonathan Davis with a terrific play in the fourth, crashing into the center-field wall after leaping to glove Davis’ long drive. Though the impact was enough to knock Hays’ hat off his head, he remained in the game to homer in his next at-bat. Hays traversed 110 feet in 6.1 seconds to make the play, which had a 50-percent catch probability. That translates into a 4-star catch, per Statcast. Hays also left his feet to take a potential game-tying hit away from Danny Jansen to preserve the Orioles’ one-run lead in the sixth.
“He swung the bat great, it’s great to see. He played really well in center field again and took good at-bats,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We just have a hard time holding on to leads.”
The Blue Jays tied the game an inning later on Cavan Biggio’s solo homer, and also got taters from Randal Grichuk, Davis and a game-tying RBI single from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the ninth. Hyde then squeezed four-plus innings of one-run ball out of Dillon Tate, David Hess and Eades before Alford sent his first career homer 424 feet.
That ultimately overshadowed the effort from Hays, who simply shined on both sides of the ball. Again.
“I’m just trying to continue to have good at-bats, competitive at-bats, play as hard as I can on defense and try to take advantage of any opportunity that I get,” Hays said.
For Hays, the Orioles -- and especially the Blue Jays -- this is becoming routine. Hays’ effort Monday came on the day he earned MLB’s Play of the Week honors for his home run robbery of Guerrero Jr. on Thursday; he’s also sprinkled in above-average plays coming in and going to his left on balls since returning to the big leagues earlier this month. He’s already accounted for 10 percent of the Orioles’ team total in 3-5 star catches, per Statcast, and has hit .314 with four homers and a .991 OPS in his first 16 games back in the Majors since 2017.
Per STATS, on Monday Hays became the first rookie in MLB history to have five-plus RBIs, a stolen base and an outfield assist in the same game since the RBI became an official stat in 1920.
“It’s incredible,” said starter Chandler Shepherd, who allowed six runs in three innings. “I’ve been watching him play for a while now and it’s special.”
Sitting near his locker in the Orioles' clubhouse on Monday afternoon, Hays watched the clubhouse television with bemusement as his catch from Thursday ran loops on MLB Network, which conducted an unofficial Twitter poll that deemed it the play of the year.
Asked to reflect on it, Hays referenced an interview he saw of Pete Rose preaching the importance of prioritizing defense. He said it stuck with him. A few hours later he was face down on the Rogers Centre turf, cap lost but ball secured, another positive impression made.
“I know we live in the social media world where everybody wants to see the long home run and defense is almost viewed as boring,” Hays said. “[Rose] talked about how offense and defense are two separate entities. One should never affect the other. If you do something bad on offense you shouldn’t carry it out to defense. I’ve always tried to live that way and play as hard as I can, every pitch.”