'Electric': O's snap streak, tee off on Ohtani

August 26th, 2021

BALTIMORE — The 1988 Orioles are safe. Baseball’s longest losing streak in 16 years is over.

The Orioles were partying Wednesday night after snapping their 19-game losing streak in dramatic fashion, hitting two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani hard and then rallying in the late innings to capture a come-from-behind, 10-6 victory over the Angels, their first in more than three weeks. With the win, the Orioles avoided becoming the seventh team since 1901 to lose 20 consecutive games.

“It's electric in [the clubhouse],” Cedric Mullins said. “We are coming off a crazy streak. .. I know it looked like it was going to be the big 2-0 today, but we fought back, continued to grind and came out with a win.”

Instead, their 19-game skid will stand as the longest in MLB since 2005, and the second-longest in franchise history. But it is now behind them. They buried it by homering thrice in five innings off Ohtani, tying the game and pushing ahead on two bases-loaded walks in the eighth, and piling on with Austin Hays’ pinch-hit two run double serving as the dagger. They did it by turning a four-run hole into a four-run cushion, by getting six shutout innings from their combustible bullpen and by besting baseball’s must-see attraction.

“We were tired of hearing about it,” said manager Brandon Hyde of the streak. “Tired of seeing it on TV. Everybody is tired of it.”

As they shed it, the full spectrum of emotion spilled out across Oriole Park: happiness, relief, catharsis, all plain to see. What does happiness look like? It’s Hays watching his key double sail into the left-field corner, pulling into second with a month-long monkey lifted off his back. Relief is what washed over Hyde’s face on the handshake line, his dugout finally alive, revived. Catharsis is the sound of 15,867 fans cheering, clapping and wooing with glee for the first time in what felt like forever.

“I haven’t felt like this since John Means’ no-hitter,” O’s play-by-play man Scott Garceau remarked, on-air, during the decisive eighth inning. “Camden Yards is alive like it hasn’t been in a long time!”

It was true. With three homers hit off Ohtani, the Orioles hit the two-way phenom as well as any team since late-June, becoming the only team to hit multiple homers in a game off Ohtani in 31 career starts.

It was enough until it wasn’t. Minutes after Mullins and Anthony Santander took Ohtani deep in the bottom of the first, the Angels answered with Brandon Marsh’s two-run single off Chris Ellis. They scored four more runs in the fourth off Ellis and Marcos Diplán, stretching their lead enough to withstand DJ Stewart’s two-run homer in the bottom of the frame, and Mullins’ run-scoring groundout in the seventh.

An inning later, Trey Mancini singled and Santander doubled off Jake Petricka, who intentionally walked Stewart. That set up a bases-loaded, no-out situation for Ramon Urías, helping align the stars. Urías watched four straight balls from Petricka to force home the tying run, then two batters later, James Hoyt walked Kelvin Gutierrez on a 3-2 pitch to force in the go-ahead run. Hays followed with his game-changing double to left.

All told, it was a bona fide rally to cap a character win, the kind the Orioles hadn’t enjoyed in weeks. Bedlam ensued.

“It felt like postseason pressure,” Hyde said. “I’ve never experienced a middle of August game between two teams not in the hunt with so much tension. Our guys just really wanted this one.”

Back in the middle of the ‘88 skid, then-Orioles GM Roland Hemond famously broke out an old, too-small, champagne-soaked suit he believed still had wins in it, in an attempt to stop his team’s agonizing streak. It didn’t work.

The current Orioles had similar shenanigans up their sleeves. Those eventually did. Mancini grew a mustache -- “I hate having a mustache,” said Mancini. It was a form of self punishment, but also trying to keep things a little lighter, vowing not to shave it until they won. Ryan Mountcastle grew a goatee. Mullins shaved. For days, the mojo didn’t change.

Then early this week, catcher Austin Wynns suggested something more mystical. He purchased sage online, had it shipped overnight to Oriole Park. He and Mancini walked across the ballpark Wednesday “saging everything we possibly could.” The goal was to cleanse the space, to change the chemistry.

“I'm sitting in my office and I walk outside and there was an aroma coming into the hallway,” Hyde said. "I saw Mancini and his mustache and asked him: 'Are we smoking some different types of cigarettes?'”

Said Mancini: “We needed to do something.”

Hyde never ran from the difficulty the streak presented on a daily basis, the toll it took. He’d been intentional about reminding his players how they, to a man, all have something still to play for. Prior to the sage ceremony, his players marched this dubious road with workman-like demeanor, garnering praise from opposing managers for their effort and attitude, even in anguish. And until this week, the whole thing had gone down in relative anonymity compared to ‘88, when Billy Ripken famously appeared in agony, mid-streak, on the cover of Sports Illustrated. At 0-18, then-manager Frank Robinson received a sympathetic call from President Reagan.

That team was unlucky in ways: their streak featured five one-run losses, including three straight at one point. Of the current Orioles’ 19 straight losses, all but one came by multiple runs; they were outscored by 108 runs during the skid, the worst run differential over any 20-game span since 1900. Compared to the big-name ‘88 team, these Orioles are by design much less accomplished, and often found themselves outmanned and overmatched.

By late Wednesday night, none of that mattered. Mancini hopped in front of the postgame Zoom already clean-faced, and noticeably lighter. Mullins vowed to grow his beard back immediately. Mancini and Hyde both shouted out the fanbase, lauding their energy and support through what the manager called “a really challenging, incredibly hard three weeks.” He was already looking ahead.

“I’m thinking sage tomorrow,” Hyde said. “Trey’s mustache is already gone. I told him: ‘We’re on a winning streak, how can you shave?’”