O's finding cornerstones for next good club

Mullins moves to verge of 30-30 season; Mountcastle hits homer No. 30 in loss

September 18th, 2021

BOSTON -- Amid a season of struggles for the Orioles, has quietly, and swiftly, been having a standout year.

Sitting near the top of the American League in various categories such as hits, doubles, average, on-base percentage and slugging, Mullins inched closer to a major feat in a 9-3 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. With 29 homers and 30 stolen bases, Mullins is one blast shy of becoming a member of an elite club -- one that requires the rare combination of speed and power: 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season.

Entering the game with 29 homers and 28 swipes, Mullins wasted little time on the basepaths. After his second-inning single, the center fielder swiped second with at the plate. His 30th bag was taken with such ease, there was initially confusion as to whether it was a stolen base. With Nick Pivetta on the mound, Mullins trotted gingerly to third base, though time had already been called, sending him back to second. No problem. One pitch later with a shift in place, Mullins checked off his 30th swipe.

Despite their 47-101 record, the O’s have seen numerous young players making headlines for their individual contributions this week. The 24-year-old Mountcastle quickly got Baltimore on the board Saturday with his first-pitch homer in the first inning, becoming the first rookie in Orioles history to reach the 30-homer mark. In Friday night’s series opener, Austin Hays (26) continued a September power surge with his seventh homer this month. And just two days earlier, Mullins made headlines for his defensive prowess: a home run robbery of the Yankees’ Gary Sánchez.

“When you have a season like this, you are looking for bright spots and things to build on for the future,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “looking for cornerstone guys that, when the team does get competitive and does get good, that you can surround them with. The right kind of players, veteran players, the right pitching staff. Cedric Mullins is playing like that, there’s not a doubt about it. Playing like an All-Star. Ryan Mountcastle, 30 homers, that’s an incredible accomplishment his rookie year.”

Zac Lowther, who allowed three runs on five hits and two walks over 3 1/3 innings, echoed his manager on just how important players such as Mullins and Mountcastle have been to the team on and off the field.

“Playing with Ryan this year and then Cedric in 2019 a little bit, and this year, it’s been really fun to see how they’ve taken everything that they’ve been handed head-on and being able to attack,” Lowther said. “Those guys are having unbelievable years, and just being able to kind of grow on that, because they are both so young, and take that energy that they bring on the field into the clubhouse and back and forth. It’s been a really good year for those two, and I think they’ve grown on a lot of guys in terms of attitude, development and all that goes with that.”

The O’s pounced on Pivetta out of the gate, recording first-pitch hard hits on the righty’s first three pitches of the game. Mullins fired Pivetta’s first pitch to left field for a double before Mountcastle jumped on an 84.5 mph slider for the homer. Pivetta’s third pitch was good for an Anthony Santander single. Austin Hays didn’t let up on the pressure, working a full count before drawing a walk.

“You look at the first four guys in our lineup today, they all took really good at-bats and they’re swinging the bat well,” Hyde said. “Santander swung the bat really well today. He’s feeling better, and you can tell in his swings. And then Haysie, outstanding month. So [we're] really excited about those four guys going forward, and they’ve been a bright spot for a tough year.”

Mullins tacked on a single and a walk, finishing 2-for-4 with one run scored. Though it didn’t come Saturday, Mullins’ 30th homer seems inevitable, a feeling even opposing manager Alex Cora expressed ahead of the series.

“He’s been great against everybody,” Cora said. “You look at the numbers, he’s hitting .300, [29] home runs, he’s going to be 30-30. He made the All-Star Game, he made some adjustments in the offseason and they paid off. They started here in the first three games of the season. He hit the ball all over the place, and he hasn’t stopped.”