Sometimes, bad blood exists between old teammates. But not between Orioles righty Jorge López and Rays outfielder Brett Phillips. The proof came in the fourth inning of the Orioles’ 5-4 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field on Saturday, when López and Phillips were involved in a hit-by-pitch reaction unlike any you’ve ever seen.
It occurred when López plunked Phillips with a 95-mph fastball in the right shoulder area, prompting Phillips to turn angrily toward the mound. For a second, it seemed as if Phillips would charge López, who lifted both hands to his head upon delivering the pitch while home-plate umpire Nick Mahrley jogged toward Phillips just in case things got heated. That was until Phillips’ face dropped, and he broke character and walked to first while smiling as if to say: “I got ya!”
Both could laugh afterward, making it the ultimate charge-the-mound fakeout.
“Brett Phillips is like a brother to me,” López said. “We kind of grew up together. He’s funny and a decent dude. I didn’t want to hit him, but he knows me.”
“He was one of my favorite teammates,” said Phillips, who is known for his laugh, a video of which went viral five years ago. “Obviously, he did not do that on purpose, and when I got hit, I was like, 'You know what, I'm gonna have a little fun with this.' So I immediately turned around. I was like, 'You want to fight with me?' And I said it with a smile on my face, but the umpire and the catcher couldn't see I was laughing, so I was like, 'No, no, no, no, no, no!' I was like, 'No, I'm just messing, this is my boy, this is my boy!’”
In the end, it was a moment of levity on a day the Orioles suffered their 14th consecutive road defeat, a new club record. And it makes sense given the history between Phillips and López, who came up together in the Brewers' system and were part of the same trade -- to the Royals for Mike Moustakas at the 2018 Trade Deadline.
Both found their way to new teams in 2020, López via waiver claim to Baltimore and Phillips via trade to Tampa Bay. The hit-by-pitch marked the fifth matchup between the two, with Phillips 0-for-4 against López.
“When [Phillips] first took that jab step, I was like, 'Oh, man!'” said O’s catcher Austin Wynns, whose fifth-inning grand slam accounted for all of Baltimore’s offense. “But it was all fun and games.”
Wynns' slam; O's make costly errors
Wynns’ first career slam -- and first homer in the big leagues since Sept. 24, 2019 -- was part of an active afternoon for the glove-first backstop, who also threw Phillips out attempting to steal second in the sixth and committed a throwing error in the eighth. The Orioles made two errors and a few other costly misplays, most notably left fielder Ryan Mountcastle’s mishandling of Brandon Lowe’s run-scoring double in the fourth.
The lack of fundamental play left Baltimore in an early hole after the Rays’ three-run small-ball rally in the first, when four of Tampa Bay’s five baserunners reached on walks or infield grounders. López likely deserved better, ultimately striking out eight over 4 2/3 innings of five-run ball. Despite his 5.64 season ERA, López has been a relative bright spot of late -- with 20 strikeouts and just two homers allowed in his last 21 2/3 innings. Only three of the eight hits he allowed Saturday eclipsed Statcast’s 95-mph hard-hit exit velocity threshold.
“Today was bad luck,” Wynns said. “He pitched a hell of a game. It doesn’t show it, but he did.”
Said O’s manager Brandon Hyde: “I thought he threw the ball great. He got beat with three opposite-field soft singles which led to three runs. He didn’t give up a hard-hit ball until the fifth. Hardly any hard contact. He got really, really unlucky, and we didn’t make a couple plays.”