NEW YORK -- The Orioles first saw what right-hander Chris Ellis was capable of when he shut them down for four scoreless innings with a career-high seven strikeouts on Aug. 17 -- as a member of the Rays’ bullpen. When Tampa Bay designated him for assignment two days later, the O’s pounced, claiming Ellis off waivers and slotting him into their rotation.
But Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Ellis gave the Orioles even more than they had bargained for. The 28-year-old went a career-high five innings without allowing a hit, and though Baltimore’s bullpen stumbled late, Pedro Severino delivered a go-ahead sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the ninth off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to help the O’s claim a 4-3 victory.
“I thought we pitched extremely well. … Chris Ellis, obviously, that was a really good performance. Enough fastball command with a really good curveball kept guys off-balance,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “What can you say about five hitless innings? I thought he was masterful.”
The only baserunners to reach against Ellis came as a result of three walks and an error by left fielder Ryan McKenna in the first. The Orioles’ bullpen then carried the combined no-hit bid into the seventh inning, but that’s when it came apart.
Marcos Diplán gave up an RBI single to Gleyber Torres that went in and out of the glove of second baseman Jahmai Jones, who had already committed an error earlier in the frame. Baltimore’s No. 18 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Jones -- who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 23 -- thought he had a chance to salvage the no-hit attempt.
“In my opinion, I think I should make that play,” Jones said. “I felt like I got to it with enough time. It would’ve been a tough play to either flip to [Jorge] Mateo or reach across and throw him out, but I feel like any time I get my glove on the ball, I should make a play no matter where it is. It’s just a tough situation; it’s an in-between ground ball while we’re shifted on him, and I was the closest one to it.”
Diplán recovered quickly, coaxing a double play out of Luke Voit to minimize the damage, but with a man on base in the eighth, Jorge López could only watch as a game-tying two-run home run flew to right field off the bat of Joey Gallo.
It was an unfortunate turn of events for López, who had pitched to a 1.23 ERA in six outings since moving to the Orioles’ bullpen on Aug. 22. But he managed to bounce back as well, striking out Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to keep the game even.
“I’ve been really happy with [López] out of the ‘pen. His stuff is outstanding,” Hyde said. “To be able to give up a huge home run like that, crowd going nuts, and be able to punch out two of the best right-handed power hitters in our game says a lot about how far he’s coming.”
That set the stage for the Orioles to respond in the ninth against a struggling Chapman. Ryan Mountcastle reached on a dropped third strike wild pitch, Austin Hays singled (having already extended his hit streak to a career-best 11 games in the club’s two-run seventh) and Trey Mancini drew a walk before Severino struck a drive to left field that was deep enough for Mountcastle to race into home plate safely.
It was a sign of improvement for Hyde, who spoke before the game about the need for the young Orioles to understand that “the pressure is on the mound” in late situations. Though they left a concerning 12 men on base, when it mattered most, they followed his advice to make pitchers “come to you.”
“I thought we did a nice job setting the table there by doing that. Lot of deep counts, Chappy’s command was a little bit off today.” Hyde said. “… I thought we did a nice job off him, not chasing the slider, [the splitter], chasing some pitches down out of the zone -- besides the one that Mountcastle swung at that ended up working out for us.”
And while the sac fly delivered the Orioles the victory, Severino’s contributions behind the dish were just as important to their starter’s spotless performance. Ellis gave the 28-year-old backstop the credit for his success in his first career appearance against the Yankees.
“Severino was mixing and matching with signs, everything he put down I was all on board for,” Ellis said. “Gave me a good target, he just guided me through that. He’s been here a lot longer than I have, and he knows these guys, knows this team, knows how to call a game, so I just kind of let him take the reins. And whatever he was putting down, I was just trying to make the best pitch I could.”