Westburg's 4th hit a walk-off in 11 as good times roll on for O's

May 12th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- The stoic, workmanlike attitude carried by doesn’t typically lead to many smiles when he’s on a baseball diamond. But the 25-year-old couldn’t stop grinning as he dished out one high-five after another Saturday evening at Camden Yards.

Moments after Westburg lined a first-pitch single into right field to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning -- a walk-off knock that lifted his Orioles to a 5-4 win over the D-backs -- he rounded first, spun toward the first-base dugout, tossed his helmet and started smiling. He spread his arms wide and awaited his teammates.

Westburg performed a little shimmy dance with Jorge Mateo. He got doused with Gatorade by Anthony Santander and Heston Kjerstad. The crowd roared around them as orange fireworks shot off beyond center field.

The vibes continue to be great in Baltimore, where Westburg has emerged as one of the best young players in the game on a team loaded with budding stars. On this day, it was his turn to power the red-hot O’s -- an American League-best 26-12 after winning seven of their past eight games and nine of their past 11 -- to another come-from-behind victory, their 11th of the season.

“When I got called up last year, I feel like we played a lot of intense games, a lot of close games, games that could go either way,” said Westburg, who joined the Orioles last June amid their AL East-winning 101-61 campaign. “I think just with the core that we have, and a lot of the same guys from last year, I think we’re kind of used to it, unfazed.”

Baltimore has matched its best 38-game start in franchise history. The club also began 26-12 in 1969 (when they won an AL pennant) and ’70 (when they won the World Series).

Along the way, the O’s have shown the same type of resiliency and exceptional all-around play that fueled their breakthrough season in 2023.

After 4 1/2 innings on Saturday, the Orioles faced a 4-2 deficit. They quickly trimmed that in half when Gunnar Henderson led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run, his MLB-high-tying 12th of the season.

The game became tied with two outs in the eighth, when Santander belted a solo shot to straightaway center field for his seventh home run of the year. Henderson and Santander have the most homers so far for Baltimore, which leads the Majors with 59 long balls.

“Anybody on any given day can impact the game,” Westburg said. “We all have confidence in each other, and everybody’s working, so nobody’s going to get in that spot and be unprepared.”

Westburg proved ready when he got his opportunity to win it in the 11th, after the O’s and D-backs had traded zeros in the ninth and 10th. The former top prospect pounced on a low slider from right-hander Bryce Jarvis, plating automatic runner Colton Cowser from second and notching Baltimore’s third extra-inning win of the year (and second in three games).

It was Westburg’s second big league walk-off hit, following a game-ending two-run homer in the ninth inning of a 6-4 win over the Royals on April 1. It was also the career-high fourth hit of the day for Westburg, who is hitting .301 with an .867 OPS in 36 games in his sophomore season.

“He’s just getting better and better,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He never takes a pitch off ever. He just battles every single pitch at the plate.”

Westburg’s latest heroics wouldn’t have been possible without a sterling performance from Baltimore’s bullpen, which covered 6 1/3 scoreless innings after starter John Means allowed four runs in 4 2/3 frames in his 2024 home debut. Mike Baumann went 2 1/3 innings, then Keegan Akin, Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe and Craig Kimbrel pitched one apiece.

For Kimbrel, it marked a second consecutive day with a strong showing after getting temporarily removed from the closer’s role. The 35-year-old right-hander stranded Arizona runners on the corners in the 11th, going on to secure a win -- one he could feel was imminent at the time because of the presence of hitters like Westburg in the O’s lineup.

“We battle. This team never gives up,” Kimbrel said. “We were talking about it a couple weeks ago down in the bullpen -- our job’s keeping them close, because in a blink of an eye, these guys can score four runs. If we’re keeping the games close and keeping our offense in it, we’re going to have a chance to win a lot of games.”