Rutschman's knock, Cowser's robbery help O's secure rainy win

May 25th, 2024

CHICAGO -- Considering Adley Rutschman played 154 games last season, the rare occasions he is not in the Orioles’ starting lineup are at least semi-surprising. Friday was one of those days, as manager Brandon Hyde gave his star catcher a reprieve. But sometimes, duty calls.

Rutschman hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead two-run single off Michael Kopech in the eighth inning, pushing the Orioles to a 6-4 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“That’s not an easy spot to hit, off 100, 101 [mph] in the rain,” Hyde said. “To be able to get on time and to be able to get on top of the fastball like that shows you how special of a player he is.”

The Orioles are in a stretch in which they have just two off-days between now and the end of June. Rutschman played in 46 of the Orioles’ first 48 games entering Friday, and with three consecutive day games looming, Friday made sense as a good day to get him a breather.

Even when he’s not in the starting lineup, Rutschman is fully aware Hyde could call his number at some point. However, there’s no way to tell when that moment will come before the game gets underway. How he prepares for his one potential plate appearance can depend on the day.

“It's a gradual process,” Rutschman said. “Trying to stay warm in between innings and get your swings when you feel like you need them. For each guy, it’s different.”

Hyde’s process, as far as deciding when to pull the Rutschman pinch-hit lever, is more straightforward.

“I'm going to try to pick the spot that I feel like is a game-deciding moment for him when we need him,” Hyde said. “I’d love to give him the full day off, but there's certain circumstances where he's the right option in a big spot.”

That spot presented itself in the eighth inning.

Orioles starter Corbin Burnes threw his sixth straight quality start and departed with a 4-3 lead. But the White Sox tied it immediately after he exited on a solo homer by Andrew Vaughn off Yennier Cano in the seventh inning.

After Ryan O’Hearn led off the eighth with a double and Anthony Santander drew a one-out walk, Hyde called on Rutschman to pinch-hit for Cedric Mullins. The White Sox countered with Kopech, their closer, to navigate a first-and-third jam with one out.

Kopech threw Rutschman six straight four-seam fastballs, all of which were at least 97 mph. Three of the first four were out of the zone, and Rutschman swung and missed at another. He fouled off Kopech’s fifth offering. Kopech came back with a 3-2 heater at 99 mph, and Rutschman lined a single to left field, just out of the reach of a diving Andrew Benintendi.

“It’s a really tough at-bat, but that’s what great players do,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said.

Santander was running with the full count and scored from first base with an elusive slide around catcher Korey Lee.

After an eventful finish Thursday, Friday provided another, when Colton Cowser robbed Tommy Pham of a home run to secure the win. With two outs, Pham hit a deep fly ball off closer Craig Kimbrel making Cowser give chase in right-center field.

Cowser entered in the eighth as a defensive substitute for Rutschman, so he did not have a game’s worth of reps to judge how fly balls were playing under the rainy, windy Chicago sky. He leaped at the wall and pulled back the Statcast-projected 401-foot drive.

“Honestly, it was kind of a blur,” Cowser said. “With Craig throwing fastballs away, [Pham] could hit one out to my left, and that’s what happened. I just went up and made a play.”

When Cowser made it to the infield handshake line, he extended the ball to Kimbrel, who picked up career save No. 428 -- tying Kenley Jansen for fifth all-time. It was a lighthearted callback to when Cowser accidentally threw the ball that secured Kimbrel’s 422nd career save into the fountains at Kauffman Stadium.

Kimbrel smiled and appeared to tell Cowser, “You keep that ball,” but the 24-year-old made sure he got it postgame.

“He told me I could keep this one,” Cowser said with a chuckle, “but I ended up giving it to him anyway, because it’s 428. That’s a lot.”