O's center fielder pitches 16th inning for the save

Wilkerson becomes first position player to ever record a save

July 26th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- Sometime around the 13th inning, Stevie Wilkerson stalked back into the Orioles' clubhouse to grab another glove. By then, Thursday evening had already bled into Friday morning, the Orioles and Angels deadlocked in a marathon affair that would tax their bullpen, set Major League records, and, by the time it was over, stand as one of the weirdest and wildest games of the 2019 season.

Crazy as it might seem then, Wilkerson could see the writing on the wall. He’d already played a sizable hand in stretching this game long into the night, misplaying a critical ball in center that put the Orioles behind in the seventh, then socking a game-tying double of his own a half inning later. A utility man who had already been thrust twice into mop up pitching duty this month, Wilkerson let himself consider the improbable.

“I knew we were running thin on guys,” Wilkerson said later, in a dizzy postgame clubhouse. “I knew it was a possibility when the game was getting late.”

Flash forward three innings, two lead changes and the back end of a near-endless night later, and that’s exactly what happened. After the Orioles gave back a three run lead in the bottom of the 15th, slumping second baseman put Baltimore ahead again with a two-run homer in the top of the 16th. That set the stage for Wilkerson, who floated in mid-50-mph lob balls while working a 1-2-3 bottom of the 16th to cap the second longest game in Orioles history as a 10-8 victory.

Wilkerson retired Albert Pujols for the final out to notch his first big league save, becoming the first position player in Major League history to earn one since the stat became official in 1969. He was the last of a combined 20 pitchers the Angels and Orioles used in a game that left Los Angeles griping about a controversial 15th-inning challenge and left them scrambling to find a starter for Friday.

“I don’t think I’ve wrapped my head around it yet,” Wilkerson said.

At six hours and 19 minutes, it was the second longest game in Orioles history. Only their 6-hour, 54-minute loss to Tampa on September 20, 2013, was longer.

“I think everybody was incredibly excited,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Everybody’s going to hit a wall here in about 10 minutes because it was pretty exhausting, mentally and physically. It was just a grind baseball game. It feels great to come out on top.”

This time, it took a village, with everyone from to to Hanser Alberto to Jace Peterson and Gabriel Ynoa -- and others in between -- playing key roles.

“No, this wasn’t something I thought about at FanFest,” Hyde quipped. “Just a great, great baseball game. A really gutty performance from our guys. It was a boxing match back and forth.”

Here are a few more key moments from Thursday’s instant classic.

Review in the 15th

Wilkerson’s heroics were only necessary because of the drama that came before, so let’s backtrack. The game tied at 5-5, the Orioles turned to right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, who, pitching for the second consecutive day, logged three shutout innings while Baltimore was held scoreless over that same span by Adalberto Mejia.

They broke through off Griffin Canning in the 15th: In his season debut, recently-promoted Jace Peterson put Baltimore ahead with a two-run single and Hanser Alberto (four hits) added an insurance knock. That brought on left-hander Tanner Scott, tasked with holding a three-run lead.

He could not, Scott walked the bases loaded before Mike Trout unloaded them with a game-tying double into the left-field corner. The Orioles used a perfectly executed relay to catch David Fletcher attempting to score the go-ahead run, but the Angels were displeased after home plate ump Tony Randazzo’s call stood following a two-minute, 41-second review.

‘His hand was in there before the glove hit [Fletcher] in the chest,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “I think it’s a tough call, but I think New York missed it.”

“I couldn’t tell,” Hyde said. “The only thing, because they called him out, I was hoping that it would stand. I had no idea.”

Scott retired Shohei Ohtani to end the frame, and the Orioles went ahead on Villar’s homer in the 16th, the latest hit by an Oriole in franchise history. The Orioles became the first time to blow a three-plus-run lead in the 15th inning or later and still win since Houston did so against the Cubs on September 2, 1986.

Villar, a trade candidate heading into next week’s deadline, had been mired in a 5-for-47 funk before the at-bat.

“I think this is the best day for us. That's unbelievable."

Late-inning drama

All that drama did much to overshadow key performances by Mancini and Givens, who represent the Orioles' most valuable and likely-to-move assets ahead of next week’s Trade Deadline. Mancini put the Orioles ahead with his 23rd homer of the year in the ninth, before Givens allowed a game-tying homer to Brian Goodwin to blow his sixth save of the year in what was essentially his latest deadline audition.

Givens struck out three of his six batters around Goodwin’s 411-foot shot. It was microcosmic of what’s been a strange season for Givens, who, tasked with handling the overwhelming majority of Baltimore’s high-leverage situations, is missing more bats but allowing more homers than ever in his career.

Despite a career-high 4.28 season ERA, Givens has still allowed just two run over his last nine games, owning a 1.63 ERA over that stretch. He’s been scouted extensively in recent weeks and figures to factor heavily in a thin reliever market, with almost every team in contention looking for bullpen help.