Mountcastle sets HR record in O's walk-off W

With 29th HR of ‘21, 1B passes Cal Ripken Jr. for most by a rookie in franchise history

September 17th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Move over, Iron Man. In 67 years of Orioles baseball, no rookie has hit more home runs than .

Mountcastle eclipsed ’s franchise record on Thursday, hitting his 29th of the season in Baltimore’s come-from-behind, walk-off, 3-2 win over the Yankees in 10 innings at Oriole Park. Mountcastle had since Sunday been sitting on Ripken’s record, which stood since 1982.

“Most of my family were Orioles fans growing up and all their favorite players were Cal Ripken, so I knew a lot about him. Being in the same company with him is pretty cool,” Mountcastle said. “I never thought I would’ve done that to be honest. It means a lot and is a really cool accomplishment.”

Mountcastle achieved it with a 438-foot solo shot off Yanks starter Jordan Montgomery in the sixth inning, providing Baltimore’s only run until scored on Clay Holmes’ two-out, two-strike, game-tying wild pitch in the 9th. After ’s superb bunt single in the 10th, ’ walk-off single allowed the Orioles to play spoiler in their season-series finale against New York.

“We haven’t caught a ton of breaks, and it feels like we got one tonight,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Holmes’ game-altering wild pitch. “Then that was a huge play by Richie and a great bunt.”

That pulled the focus temporarily off Mountcastle, whose record-breaking homer put him within one of Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia for the American League rookie lead. Mountcastle is also now tied with for the team lead in home runs -- if he passes Mullins, he’d be the first Orioles rookie to lead them in homers since Curt Blefary in 1965.

All told, Mountcastle ranks among the AL’s top three rookies in hits (123), homers, doubles (23), RBIs (81), total bases (236), slugging (.497) and OPS (.810).

“Any time you’re passing someone like Cal Ripken Jr., you’re doing something very, very special,” Hyde said. “I’m very proud of the progress he’s making.”

It’s about as rewarding a finish as the Orioles could’ve hoped for with Mountcastle, especially given how he started the year. Coming off a sizzling 35-game sample in 2020, Mountcastle entered ‘21 with his rookie eligibility intact and struggled mightily out of the gate, lugging a .198 average and one homer into May. The O’s chose to let him work through the funk at the big league level, scrapped their left-field experiment and, eventually, watched Mountcastle climb out that hole.

“That first month and a half was tough,” Mountcastle said. “For me to be where I’m at now, I’m grateful and proud of myself for getting out of that.”

Months later, Mountcastle finds himself in the thick of a tightly packed AL Rookie of the Year race with Garcia, Randy Arozarena and several others. Ripken won the award in 1982; the last Oriole to win it was Gregg Olson in ‘89.

“Ryan is super talented … He’s shown great growth, both with his work ethic and his ability to perform,” Orioles hitting coach Don Long said this week. “I’m proud of him, not for his performance. I’m proud of him for learning how to work, and for working through that really difficult time. Any time you’re broken down and you survive it, get through it and start to excel, your confidence goes to a different level.”

Say Hays!
Another night, another September moment for Hays, who continues to make a habit of them. Chopping the game-winning hit through the left side off Wandy Peralta, Hays has now hit safely in 12 of 14 games and increased his OPS by nearly 50 points this month. The young outfielder is hitting .333 (28-for-84) with 15 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs over his last 22 games overall.

Six of Hays’ 20 homers have come this month, including two on Wednesday. In fact, Hays has 14 career homers in September … and 15 in all other months combined.

“Unfortunately, I’ve gotten hurt in the middle of the season or early in the year, and when I come back it takes me a little bit to get going,” Hays said. “The last two years, September has been the time when my body starts to feel good, I start to feel healthy. At the same time, I’m also playing every day now … the combination of feeling better and being on the field consistently in September has allowed me to put up some numbers.”

Spoiler season
In their own way, the Orioles will have a say in the race for October. Baltimore plays 12 of its final 16 games against contending clubs, beginning with three this weekend against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Two series with the Sox loom, as well as sets with the Phillies and Blue Jays.

In short, the Orioles can start playing spoiler with three of their division rivals neck-and-neck in the hotly contested AL Wild Card field. They’ve already made an impact with their play against the Yankees.

With Thursday’s win, the O’s finished the season series with an 8-11 record against New York, their best mark since 2016 and a huge improvement over the 2-17 record they posted just two years ago.

“We’re playing against a team that’s very, very talented and has high expectations,” Hyde said. “For us to go toe-to-toe with those guys over the past two nights, I’m proud of that.”