'Wow' performance from Ober gets Twins to .500

Gallo's homer, Kepler's spectacular catch in ninth help AL Central leaders clinch series win

July 2nd, 2023

BALTIMORE -- For all the talk surrounding the Twins’ offense lately, was nice enough to give Minnesota’s hitters something of a day off Saturday.

The Twins didn’t require much offense to get back to .500 (42-42) with their 1-0 win over the Orioles because of Ober, who worked seven scoreless innings in one of the best outings of his career in a matinee victory at Oriole Park.

“That was a ‘wow’ game and performance,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That was the best I’ve ever seen him throw. … It was almost a perfect outing, just watching him go to work like that. It was great. I can just keep talking about it. He was phenomenal.”

Backed only by ’s 15th home run, Ober dominated for much of the hazy, humid afternoon in the Charm City, striking out eight and holding the Orioles to only three baserunners. He allowed only two singles and retired 13 of 14 at one point, finishing his outing with a flourish in the form of consecutive strikeouts before Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran combined to record the final six outs -- with the help of a game-saving sliding catch from right fielder for the second out in the bottom of the ninth.

“That was one of the sweetest plays in right field I've ever seen,” Baldelli said. “I didn't think he had a shot at the ball. I was hoping the ball went foul off the bat. And it didn't really hook very much. I think it would have been really, really close right down the line, and he came out of sight. I didn't even see him. I had no idea where he came from.” 

Said Ober: “That was unbelievable. I was watching in the clubhouse, and he disappeared into that right-field corner on the TV. None of us knew if he caught it or not. When he came out firing with the ball, everybody cheered. It was a big-time play.”

Per Statcast, Kepler covered 82 feet in 4.5 seconds to run down Anthony Santander’s sinking liner with the tying run on second base, sliding past the foul line to reel in the 4-star catch. It also helped salvage a day on which Minnesota maintained its lead atop the American League Central but lost Royce Lewis to an oblique strain that will sideline the impact rookie for several weeks.

“You want to take the most efficient route, and then you want to get to the ball as fast as possible,” Kepler said. “My personal catches are all kind of a blur, but this season, that was my favorite.”

It also ensured the Twins didn’t waste the magnificent effort from Bailey, who is emerging as another reliable option in Minnesota’s rotation. A steady if irregular contributor for each of the past two seasons, Bailey was inserted full-time into the Twins’ rotation in late April, and the 27-year-old has made the most of the opportunity. Ober’s gem on Saturday improved the righty to 5-4 with a 2.70 ERA and a sensational 74-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts this season.

Ober has completed at least five innings in each of those 13 starts while holding opposing hitters to a .256 on-base percentage. That’s the fourth lowest in the Majors among 105 pitchers with at least 60 innings.

Bailey does it by utilizing his 6-foot-9 frame to generate as much extension as any pitcher in the game (99th percentile, per Statcast) and with elite control -- his 5.1 percent walk rate ranks fifth among AL pitchers with at least 70 innings. On Saturday, he was in command of all four of his pitches while leaning heavily on his changeup and curveball to career-best results.

“Guys just don’t look like their normal selves when they face him,” Baldelli said. “It’s a unique look -- and when I say unique, I mean almost totally unique, being 6-foot-9 with his arm dropping into a funky spot where it comes out of. I think the angle at which he throws all of his different pitches is something hitters just never see unless they are facing him. The execution of his pitches, and also that look that he gives them, helps him have success.”

Said O’s manager Brandon Hyde: “It was a really well-pitched game, on both ends. But Ober was a little bit better. … Great command, no walks, punched out eight. [It was] just a tough time. We didn’t have many hard-hit balls. Really kept us off-balance extremely well with really good command.”