BOSTON -- With just 15 games left in the regular season, time is running out for teams and players to leave their mark.
Austin Hays is wasting no time doing just that in September.
One night after sending the Orioles to a victory over the Yankees with his first career walk-off hit, Hays greeted Boston ace Chris Sale with a home run. The long ball was one of just four hits for Baltimore in its 7-1 loss in Friday night’s opener at Fenway Park, but it marked the seventh home run for Hays this month.
“He’s had a great month,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Really happy with the progress he’s making, and he’s getting a chance to play every day. He’s had kind of an injury-plagued career up to this point, where he hasn’t been able to get everyday at-bats, hasn’t been able to stick in a lineup for a long period of time.”
Friday’s blast was Hays’ second off Sale this season, having tagged the lefty in Sale’s season debut on Aug. 14. After seeing two strikes from the ace in his first at-bat, Hays sat on two pitches (an 86.2 mph changeup and a 78.8 mph slider) before finding his pitch: a 91.4 mph fastball he hit off the Green Monster light pole for the Orioles’ lone run of the game.
As the temperature drops (a cool 66 degrees at first pitch), Hays only continues to heat up. The right fielder has been red-hot throughout September, and it’s becoming a sort of pattern. In 69 September games throughout his career, Hays has 15 homers -- matching his total for all other months combined (121 games).
This month, Hays is batting .295/.338/.721 with seven homers and 16 RBIs. Despite numerous stints on the injured list in his four-year career (including right ankle surgery in 2018 and a rib fracture in ‘20), Hays has managed to make the most of September every year. In ‘20, he hit .377/.404/.585 with three homers and four RBIs across 14 games in September. Across 21 games in ‘19, the right fielder again dominated, hitting .309 with four home runs and 13 RBIs.
“He’s always had the ability,” Hyde said. “He’s playing every day, facing Major League pitching, facing AL East pitching. Made some adjustments throughout the year, taking really good at-bats. … Lightning-fast hands, he’s unbelievably athletic, he’s a really good outfielder in three spots, and he’s just maturing as a Major League player.”
Though Hays’ numbers speak for themselves, it’s worth noting whom the 26-year-old has tallied his home runs against in a month the Orioles have faced postseason contenders 12 times in 17 days.
Sept. 5 vs. Yankees: Corey Kluber
Sept. 7 vs. Royals: Jackson Kowar
Sept. 11 vs. Blue Jays (2): Hyun Jin Ryu, Ross Stripling
Sept. 15 vs. Yankees (2): Néstor Cortes Jr., Chad Green
Keegan Akin, who surrendered four runs in a four-inning start Friday, remarked about Hays’ contributions not only at the plate but in the field.
“Hays will run through a wall for you,” Akin said. “He plays the game hard, the right way, and it’s nice to have him out in the outfield every day. You know, just finally seeing him in a full season when he’s healthy, so he’s out in the field a lot more and you’re finally getting to see a little bit of that. So kudos to him, and [I] enjoy having him in the outfield for me.”
Despite Hays’ bright spot, Friday marked another milestone for Baltimore: its 100th loss of the season.
“It’s been a tough year,” Hyde said. “You know, we haven’t won many games. It’s been a tough year in a lot of ways. And, you know, hopefully coming forward we’re going to win more games than we’ve won this year.”
With Sale out of the way, the Orioles are still tasked with facing starters Nick Pivetta and Nathan Eovaldi in the remaining two games of the series. Three of Baltimore’s remaining four series will come against playoff contenders. Following their trip to Boston, the O’s head to Philadelphia to face a Phillies team clawing its way toward a National League postseason spot. Then the O’s close out their season hosting the Red Sox and traveling to Toronto to face the Blue Jays.