Mullins 1st Oriole in 30-30 club: 'It's surreal'

September 25th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- ’ surprise, superlative breakout season now also ranks historic. Not until Friday had an Oriole player hit 30 home runs and stolen 30 bases in the same season, throughout 67 years of O’s baseball in Baltimore. In that respect, Mullins now stands alone.

He earned the distinction with his three-run home run off Rangers righty Spencer Howard in the second inning of Friday's 8-5 loss, tying something of a bow on a season that’s certain to earn the All-Star center fielder some down-ballot MVP love come awards voting. Mullins is the 43rd player in MLB history to record a 30-30 season, and first since Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuña Jr. accomplished the feat in 2019. The last American League players to do so were Mookie Betts and José Ramírez in '18.

“I always felt I had 30 bags in me,” the 26-year-old and former 13th-round Draft pick said. “The 30 homers I always envisioned, if my power clicked like it has. It’s an amazing feat and I’m proud of this moment. It’s surreal.”

Mullins now sports exactly 30 homers and 30 stolen bases with eight games to play, to go along with 173 hits, 36 doubles, five triples, an OPS north of .900 and 10 Outs Above Average. He’d been sitting on 29 homers since Sept. 11, an 11-game span, and entered play Friday ranked fourth among AL players in fWAR, at 5.6.

In short, it’s been a dazzling campaign for Mullins despite the Orioles’ struggles as a team, during which he’s emerged as a centerpiece of their long-term rebuilding efforts. He is also the first player in franchise history to go 30-30 in nearly a century, since Ken Williams for the St. Louis Browns in 1922.

“Congratulations to him for an incredible year,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “There have been a lot of great players who have put on an Orioles uniform, and for nobody to ever go 30-30 shows you how special that is. Baltimore has a history of great, great hitters. For Cedric to do that, you don’t see it very often, so it’s unbelievable.”

The result was a moment Mullins savored, and will continue savoring. To a man, the Orioles’ dugout perked up when the ball left his bat, erupting in excitement when it narrowly avoided the outstretched glove of Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras. (Rangers outfielders would go over the wall to rob two home run balls in the innings to come, Taveras taking one away from Pedro Severino and DJ Peters thieving Pat Valaika).

“That was a hold your breath moment,” starting pitcher Alexander Wells said. “When it landed, we all went wild.”

Mullins later received a curtain call from the 7,935 on hand at Oriole Park, and went home with the ball after the Orioles retrieved it from the stands. His teammates let Mullins report to center field alone to begin the next inning so he could receive another ovation from the crowd.

“I gotta give credit to [coach] Fredi González there,” Hyde said. “Once that happened, he talked to the guys in the dugout and thought it was a cool idea to stay in without Cedric knowing, so everyone in the ballpark could give him the credit he deserves for an amazing, amazing achievement.”

It is the culmination of a remarkable turnaround for Mullins, who two years ago was back at Double-A Bowie after struggling mightily when given a chance at the Orioles’ starting center-field job. He’d clawed his way back to the Majors by 2020, and in the offseason decided to jettison switch-hitting, backed by the belief that issues batting right-handed were capping his overall potential. It’s difficult to imagine Mullins proving himself more correct.

Mullins locked down the Orioles’ starting center-field job with a strong spring, came out of the gate red-hot and caught fire again in June, using a 1.172 OPS that month to secure his first career All-Star nod. He spent almost an entire weekend without making an out at one point, eclipsed his Minor League career high in homers before the All-Star break and more than held his own against southpaws, hitting .284 with an .811 OPS and 61 hits -- second in MLB among left-handed hitters.

He kept producing steadily throughout the second half and all the while shined defensively, using plays like these to rank among the AL’s top center fielders. In the end, Mullins might wind up the first player in 70 years to finish top five in MVP voting from a 100-loss team, since right-hander Ned Garver from the 1951 Browns. Whatever else happens, he’s already asserted himself as Baltimore’s rebuild’s most bona fide star.

“It’s the biggest breakthrough season I’ve seen.” Hyde said. “Just how far he’s come from two years ago.”