This has been the best April of Cedric Mullins’ baseball life, with Mullins spending the month not only reasserting himself as the Orioles' hands-down everyday center fielder, but as one of the most dynamic players in the American League. What better way to cap it than with some heroics?
No matter what he accomplishes on April’s final day, Mullins ensured on Thursday that the month wouldn’t end without a lasting image. It came in the form of him being mobbed by teammates after his 10th-inning sacrifice fly sent the O's to a walk-off 4-3 win over the Yankees at Oriole Park. Mullins also scored twice and added to his Major League-leading hit total to help Baltimore earn a series split with New York.
“I’m so proud of him,” Trey Mancini said. “He’s completely built himself back up from a mental standpoint and physically, too. He’s lethal out there in every aspect of the game.”
Hitting .340 with 33 hits, 12 runs scored and a .918 OPS, Mullins starred all April on something of an island atop the Orioles’ lineup, which, despite his success, ranks 14th out of 15 AL teams in runs scored. Thursday provided an example of what things could look like when Mullins gets some help.
Baltimore's top three hitters had a hand in all of its runs off starter Jordan Montgomery and four Yankees relievers, highlighted by the start of what looks like a breakout for Mancini and Austin Hays’ go-ahead double in the eighth.
Mullins was in the middle of most of it, scoring on Mancini’s first-inning single and racing around from first on Hays’ double off Darren O’Day, after Mullins walked to open the inning.
Mancini’s sixth-inning 111 mph solo homer off Montgomery was his fifth hit in as many at-bats. He entered the day hitting .225 over his first 24 games after returning from beating Stage 3 colon cancer.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, I'm not gonna lie,” Mancini said. "I've definitely felt better the last couple of days. I know I've had a couple spurts this year where it looked like maybe I broke out, but I've never had that feeling that I did a couple years ago, and I've been searching and searching.”
Prone to droughts of hard contact and to chasing pitches out of the zone at higher-than-usual rates, Mancini was emblematic of the Orioles’ offensive struggles (Mullins excluded) over the season’s first four weeks. Thursday’s win was their third in eight games, and of their 20 runs in that span, eight came in Sunday's win over the A's. That prompted a series of meetings this week deep within Oriole Park: one-on-one sessions with Mancini and hitting coach Don Long; Mancini and manager Brandon Hyde; and Long and the O's hitters en masse.
“I think, as a unit, it really had a big impact on us,” Mancini said. “Because sometimes you need that meeting together, to have that tough-love conversation that we had this morning to snap us all out of it. It changes your perspective a little bit and kind of gives you a breath of fresh air in a way.”
If they turn things around, perhaps the O's will look at Thursday’s victory as a springboard. It’s worth mentioning that they stayed in the game because of another fine effort from their bullpen, which continues to pitch like one of the best relief units in baseball. Logging six strong innings behind Jorge López, the bullpen's only hiccup came from César Valdez’s second blown save in seven chances. A lights-out 10th inning from Tanner Scott, who had six walks in his past two appearances but struck out two on Thursday, kept the game tied.
Mullins made the most of it.
“We’ve definitely taken a step on the mound, and that allows us to stay in games for a longer period of time,” Hyde said. “We're still not swinging the bat the way we're capable of, but it's nice to win games like this, extra-inning-type games when you're playing against really good teams, against lineups that are built to play in October. I think that's a confidence builder for our guys.”
• Triple-A Norfolk announced Thursday it plans to open its season at 38% capacity, welcoming 4,731 fans per game to Harbor Park. The Tides’ home opener is set for 6:35 p.m. ET on May 18 against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
• Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc cleared waivers and elected free agency, MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reported Thursday. LeBlanc, 36, was designated for assignment by the Orioles after allowing four runs in 1 2/3 innings in their 7-2 loss to the A’s on Saturday. He went 1-1 with an 8.38 ERA in 12 games (seven starts) for Baltimore over parts of the past two seasons.