Mountcastle thriving in role as Jays' headache

August 16th, 2022

TORONTO -- For an Orioles team that’s preached the value of situational hitting all season, there has been no better situation than  hitting against the Blue Jays.

Baltimore’s first baseman, back in the lineup after missing a game with a bruised left wrist, carried on his utter dominance against Toronto on Monday, shooting a towering two-run homer in the third inning to fuel the Orioles’ 7-3 win at Rogers Centre.

“I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde of Mountcastle’s numbers against the Blue Jays. “But, yeah, he seems to see the ball well here.”

That’s not a new development. Mountcastle entered play on Monday with a 1.164 career OPS and 28 RBIs against the Blue Jays. This year, he’s sported a .464 batting average with a 1.571 OPS over his division rivals.

He’s still playing through a significant contusion after getting hit by a 94 mph fastball in his wrist, but Mountcastle’s return to the lineup was the conductor of a much-needed offensive resurgence.

After two lackluster offensive nights against Tampa Bay, the Orioles got to Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi early and in a variety of ways.

“It was tough, the last two games [against the Rays],” Hyde said. “There was a lot of disappointment. And for us to score right away in the first inning [on Monday], that was big.”

That third-inning moonshot was the highlight of the night, but the charge started back in the top of the first.

drove in a run after a bloop single and a walk put runners on first and second for the O's. Mountcastle gave them a cushion two frames later and Baltimore followed that up with elite baserunning and outstanding plate discipline.

“Everyone feels great,” said O's starter , who pitched 4 2/3 innings of three-run ball with five strikeouts, four walks and one home run allowed. “These are a little more important right now, in the later days [of the season], with us close [in the AL Wild Card race]. But any win is important.”

Still working on consistency following an IL stint, Bradish was aided immensely by the Orioles’ bullpen, which shut out the Blue Jays through 4 1/3 frames thanks in large part to bulk relievers Bryan Baker and .

Jorge Mateo scored the most dramatic run of the night. Standing at third base, Mateo beat a perfect throw home by Bo Bichette on a Tyler Nevin RBI fielder’s choice, showing off his speed to increase Baltimore’s lead.

“That’s kind of been the story of this team all year,” said outfielder , who finished with three hits and an RBI. “We’ve been resilient. It doesn’t matter if we win one or two, or lose one or two, we’re going to come back and really just give it our all, prepare the same way. So, it’s been really fun to be a part of.”

It was the type of well-rounded, bounce-back performance that has allowed this team to ascend to contention ahead of schedule, as the O's added some chaos to the AL Wild Card race with the win. Though still on the outside looking in, Baltimore found itself just 1 1/2 games out of a postseason spot after its 60th win of the year.

Stealing some games against the Blue Jays on the road also sounds extra promising in this particular moment. Toronto currently holds the top Wild Card spot in the American League but has seen its margin dwindle amid a tough stretch.

With two more games on tap north of the border, the O's are hopeful for more dominance from Mountcastle, who has 14 home runs and 28 RBIs in 32 career games against the Blue Jays.

“Unbelievable,” McKenna said. “The kid is swinging it well against the Blue Jays, and obviously, I want him to keep doing that.”

Five of Mountcastle’s 16 homers this season have come against Toronto. But his continued power display wasn’t the only positive development on Monday. The 25-year-old added two walks for his second multiple-walk game in 100 contests.

“Great to see him see pitches, great to see him lay off some tough breaking balls,” Hyde said. “He looked more in rhythm tonight and then smashed one to left.”

The plate discipline meant just as much as the home run. As the Orioles vie for a dream run in 2022, that is the level of maturity they must regularly draw from their young guys.