BOSTON -- As a raucous Fenway Park crowd celebrated an unbelievable turn of events, Ryan McKenna slowly walked from left field toward the Orioles’ third-base dugout. He looked up at the sky -- the bright ballpark lights flashing all around him -- then down at his glove. And then, he shook his head in visible disbelief.
Normally, that glove on McKenna’s left hand is so reliable. On Saturday night, not as much.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Baltimore was one routine catch away from a second consecutive one-run victory to open the 2023 season. Considering the ball was hit to McKenna, many spectators might have looked away early, assuming the game appeared seconds from ending.
Anybody who did missed the ball -- hit off the bat of Masataka Yoshida -- bounce off the bottom of McKenna’s glove and onto the soggy outfield grass, giving the Red Sox new life. Just more than a minute later, the ball was hitting off the top lip of the Green Monster, resulting in a walk-off two-run homer by Boston’s Adam Duvall that sent Baltimore to a 9-8 defeat.
McKenna is typically a plus defender, as he showed with a remarkable diving catch to end the fourth. So what exactly happened on his uncharacteristic error that completely changed the outcome of the game?
“I ran to it pretty hard, it was up in the sky, and I guess I just didn’t follow all the way through with it,” McKenna said. “Hit the butt of my glove and just fell out. It was unfortunate timing, and [closer Félix] Bautista was throwing a hell of an inning there.”
The play was about as routine as they come. The left-handed-hitting Yoshida sliced a 1-0 fastball from Bautista the opposite way with an exit velocity of 85.9 mph and a launch angle of 55 degrees, per Statcast. It traveled 240 feet, giving the batted ball an expected batting average of .010.
McKenna immediately retrieved the ball and threw it to second baseman Adam Frazier, ensuring Yoshida would stay at first. But the damage was already done.
Two pitches later, Duvall crushed a 1-0 fastball from Bautista to end it, giving Boston the win in a game it trailed, 7-1, in the third inning.
“I think he’s a really good outfielder, and we all know he has a really good glove,” Bautista said of McKenna’s error via O’s team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “So I think we’re all a little bit surprised that it happened.”
Austin Hays was standing in right field at the time of the costly miscue. He was among the many teammates to stop by McKenna's locker postgame to provide a pat on the shoulder and words of encouragement.
McKenna, who is in his third season with the Orioles, started on Saturday, but the 26-year-old often enters games off the bench. He did so 41 times as a rookie in 2021, then 61 times in ‘22. The club trusts him to provide a late-inning defensive boost.
That’s why Hays is confident Saturday’s mistake was an anomaly, noting he believes McKenna makes that play “999 times out of 1,000.”
“That’s heartbreaking right there at the end,” said Hays, whose 5-for-5 night at the plate nearly powered Baltimore to victory. “But I’ve got a lot of faith in McKenna, I’ve seen him make some amazing plays, I know he’s a great outfielder. You play this game long enough, you’re bound to have one of those plays happen. It’s unfortunate the situation that it was in.”
The Orioles typically play strong outfield defense, but they haven’t had their best showings in the first two games of the season. Before McKenna’s late miscue, Hays had a challenging play of his own, taking a suboptimal route to the ball on Duvall’s RBI ground-rule double to right that cut Baltimore’s lead to 8-7 in the seventh.
“We’ve got some areas we need to clean up. It’s been uncharacteristic so far,” Hays said. “But just got to be better, just to put it simply. We’ve got to be better out there.”
Especially because there have been so many other positives from Baltimore’s 1-1 start. The club has scored 18 total runs, marking the first time since 2006 it has plated eight or more in each of its first two contests. The Orioles are also swiping bases at an historic pace, as their 10 steals are the most by an AL/NL team through two games (since at least 1901).
The weather hasn’t been ideal in Boston. Thursday’s first-pitch temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 56 on Saturday, but it was damp after rain fell for much of the day.
However, McKenna didn’t use that as an excuse for the outfielders’ recent performance.
“We’ve got to do our jobs well and execute when we need to,” McKenna said. “It didn’t happen today, but I know going forward, we’ll do a better job.”