Ortiz in 'pretty good company' after three-RBI debut

Second baseman is first Orioles player to accomplish the feat since Don Baylor in 1970

April 28th, 2023

DETROIT -- Three RBIs in your first three at-bats isn’t a bad way to begin your Major League career.

That’s what Orioles second baseman Joey Ortiz accomplished Thursday night in sparking his team to a 7-4 comeback win over the Detroit Tigers before 11,599 at Comerica Park.

Three of those fans were of particular interest to Ortiz, 24, Baltimore's No. 7 prospect who was the club’s fourth-round Draft pick out of New Mexico State in 2019. His parents, Jose and Denise Ortiz, live in Buckeye, Ariz., and flew in from Phoenix. His girlfriend, Iliana May, flew up from Jacksonville, Fla.

They got to see a little slice of franchise history.

Ortiz joined Don Baylor as the only Orioles players to get three RBIs in their debut game. Baylor, a slugging outfielder who ended his career with 1,276 RBIs, got his first three on Sept. 18, 1970.

“Well, that’s pretty good company,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said with a smile. “It was a huge hit for us there to get us on the board early. He got kind of a fortunate bounce [on his single over first baseman Spencer Torkelson's head], but it’s putting the bat on the ball with two strikes … Joey sparked us on with that two-run single.”

The St. Louis Browns/Baltimore franchise record is four RBIs in a debut, set by Bob Nieman on Sept. 14, 1951. Hank Arft ('48), George Bradley ('46) and Jim Levey ('30) all had three RBIs in their first game for the Browns.

"It's important," Ortiz said when asked about joining the late Baylor, the 1979 American League MVP who went on to manage the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs. "I was just happy to be able to help the team win. So that was most important.”

In that game 53 years ago at Memorial Stadium, Baylor singled in the bottom of the 11th inning to score pinch-runner Paul Blair and give Baltimore a 4-3 win.

Ortiz got robbed of a potential extra-base hit in his first at-bat when Tigers left fielder Akil Baddoo made a diving catch.

“I just figured, you know, ‘Welcome to The Show,’” Ortiz said, grinning. “But the game always pays you back. It’s circular.”

Ortiz put together a great at-bat his next time up, with the O's down 3-0 in the top of the 5th inning with two outs and a pair of runners in scoring position. He fell behind in the count, 0-2, against starter Joey Wentz, then fouled off the next two pitches before taking two balls.

Staying alive is what it’s all about when a batter finds himself in a hole, and Ortiz did it, chopping the seventh pitch of the at-bat off the infield grass and high over Torkelson's head into right field to cut the deficit to one run. He clapped his hands at first base.

“That’s a big spot for a rookie to come up,” said Orioles starter , who remained 4-0 after giving up three runs in 4 1/3 innings. “For the most part, [Wentz] had his way with us. … Whether it’s a veteran or a young guy, you just don’t see that very often.

“And he had the most RBIs since Don Baylor and tied a club record. So that’s a pretty cool night. Hopefully he enjoys it. That was pretty awesome.”

After his single, Ortiz had a little more spark left in his bat. In the seventh inning, he drilled a sacrifice fly to left-center to score and pull the Orioles within one at 4-3. It opened the floodgates to a five-run inning capped off by Anthony Santander’s mammoth two-run homer. The sac fly gave Ortiz his third RBI.

Hyde said he didn’t elect to start Ortiz at second base and bat him ninth so much to break the ice, but rather because he liked the right-handed hitter’s chances against the left-handed Wentz.

It turned out to be very sound strategy.

“We wanted to get a little more right-handed -- especially for this series,” Hyde said.

Left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and Matthew Boyd will start the next two games for the Tigers, and Hyde could opt to keep Ortiz in the starting lineup against them.

“I pride myself on being able to compete,” Ortiz said, “and try to do my best up there and knock the runs in.”

Ortiz got the call to the Majors after slashing .359/.389/.500 for Triple-A Norfolk, with five doubles, two triples, five walks, eight RBIs and six runs in 16 games.

What will he do with the ball from that first hit?

“Probably just give it to my parents,” said Ortiz, who hugged them and May upon exiting the clubhouse and seeing their smiling faces.

His parents took a 12:30 a.m. red-eye flight and arrived in Detroit at 9:30 a.m.

Was it worth it?

“Definitely,” said Denise Ortiz. “Wouldn’t have missed it.”

May arrived around 3 p.m., and Ortiz's parents picked her up at the airport before proceeding to Comerica Park. They arrived less than two hours before first pitch.

What went through his father’s mind on the two-run single? Relief -- and a little bit of quick baseball analysis.

“I just wanted him to get it out of his system -- just get a hit. I knew he was going to relax after that," Jose said. “He’s always been like that. He’s always been really calm, and up at the plate executing. That’s what went through my head. He did what he was supposed to do. The pitch was outside, and he went to the right side with it.”