Mullins robs a HR, then hits one in crazy late-game sequence

Center fielder's two-run blast in the 10th lifts Orioles to series win over Mariners

August 14th, 2023

SEATTLE -- As was crashing face-first into the warning track in center field, he snuck a quick peek into the glove on his right hand -- but even he wasn’t quite sure if he would see a baseball in it.

Sure enough, there it was. Mullins continued his tumble into the dirt, then stood up and let out every ounce of his emotions. The Orioles' center fielder emphatically pumped his left fist, retrieved his prize from the webbing and held it high in the air for the stunned crowd at T-Mobile Park to see.

It was a game-saving catch. But Mullins’ show was only getting started late Sunday afternoon.

An unreal sequence unfolded over the ninth inning, further amplified by what occurred in the 10th. Mullins robbed a potential game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth -- then Seattle’s Dominic Canzone hit a game-tying home run to send the tight contest to extras. Mullins nearly hit a go-ahead homer in the top of the 10th -- and then he did hit a go-ahead homer, powering Baltimore to an extraordinary 5-3 victory.

It all happened in Mullins’ third game back from the injured list -- one he didn’t even enter until the sixth inning, as the Orioles attempted to give him a day off for a small breather.

“He didn’t start the game,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “but he finished it.”

Let’s take a deeper dive into one of the more improbable finishes to an MLB game this season.

The game-saving catch ... and the game-tying homer
The ball came off Ty France’s bat at 102.9 mph with a launch angle of 26 degrees, per Statcast. When it started to sail through the air, Mullins was off and running.

“I knew I had a good jump on it,” Mullins said. “It was just a matter of the timing.”

There wasn’t exactly much time for timing, though. Mullins ran through the outfield grass and attempted to spot the ball in the bright Pacific Northwest sun. He reached the wall, jumped up, stuck his glove over the fence and somehow brought the ball back from the other side.

“It was just a full-speed catch,” said catcher James McCann, a 10-year MLB veteran. “I mean, it was one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen.”

Mullins’ Gold Glove-level defense was sorely missed in Baltimore earlier this season due to his stints on the injured list with a right adductor groin strain (May 30 to June 23; July 16 to Aug. 10). Over his six years with the Orioles, the 28-year-old has made plenty of remarkable catches -- he even made two during his rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie last week.

This one rates in Mullins’ all-time top three, in his view, but he may re-rank it No. 1 once he watches the replay and goes back “through the archives.” His teammates were certainly impressed.

“He’s a top-tier center fielder, one of the best in the league,” right-hander Kyle Bradish said. “Whenever he’s out there, ball goes up, you think he’s going to get there.”

Mullins’ catch marked the second out of the bottom of the ninth, and it nearly helped Mike Baumann earn his first MLB save. But two pitches later, the right-hander (who was filling in for heavily used All-Star closer Félix Bautista) gave up a game-tying homer to Canzone. That set the stage for more theatrics in extras.

The near go-ahead homer ... and the actual go-ahead homer
Mullins came to the plate with one out and a runner on third in the top of the 10th. He thought he had given the Orioles the lead when he connected on the fourth pitch of his at-bat, driving a 2-1 fastball from right-hander Trent Thornton that hooked just wide of the foul pole.

After returning to the batter’s box, Mullins laid off an inside curveball to run the count full. And then, he pounced again, jolting a Statcast-projected 364-foot homer to right to put Baltimore ahead, 5-3.

“How many times do you see a guy hit a foul-ball homer that just goes barely foul and then go deep after that?” Hyde said. “It rarely happens.”

It takes mental fortitude to do so, as Mullins knew he had to find a way to repeat the good swing he took on the near-homer. And he did just that, lifting the O’s to a victory that was sealed by Shintaro Fujinami throwing a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th for his first MLB save.

“There’s always that scenario of, ‘What’s better -- robbing a home run or hitting one?’” Mullins said. “But to do it basically within an inning is pretty cool, for sure.”

Another win ... and another series win
If any team is going to win a game in this fashion, it’s the resilient 2023 Orioles. They extended their lead in the American League East to three games, and they own a league-best 73-45 record -- which includes an MLB-best 37 victories by a margin of one or two runs.

After taking a 9-2 loss on Friday, Baltimore cooled off Seattle, which had won eight straight with its victory in the series opener. The O’s won, 1-0, in the 10th on Saturday before they won in equally thrilling fashion Sunday.

There was never any panic. There’s almost always a hero who steps up. And this time, it was Mullins with a top performance of the season.

“The attitude for each of us is that we’re going to be the ones to do it,” Mullins said. “If not us, we know we’re passing it to the next guy, and that’s how the clubhouse scene has been. Just having faith in each other and trust in each other, that we’re going to get it done.”