Lyles goes distance to keep Orioles in hunt

Veteran starter holds Tigers to 1 run, 3 hits in 94-pitch gem

September 22nd, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Out came members of the Orioles’ bullpen, carrying the team’s orange Gatorade jugs, filled to the brim with ice-cold celebration. Their target: their proclaimed dad, staff bulldog and starter who just threw the first complete game by an Oriole since John Means’ no-hitter on May 5, 2021.

couldn’t recall the last time he got a Gatorade bath, and he wasn’t sure if he got one after his last complete game 10 years ago as a baby-faced 21-year-old Astros pitcher. But he got one Wednesday night, having led the Orioles to victory over the Tigers, 8-1, on fewer than 100 pitches at a crucial time in the schedule.

That last nugget is his most important takeaway.

“Yeah, I went nine,” Lyles said, “but we got a win tonight.”

Lyles’ herculean effort -- blemished only by a solo homer from rookie outfielder Kerry Carpenter in the seventh -- was impressive in its own right, but more so because it provided wind under the Orioles’ wings. The victory avoided what would have been a devastating six-game season sweep to the last-place Tigers and tossed another bone into Baltimore’s postseason hopes, finishing the night four games back of the Mariners for the third and final AL Wild Card spot, with 14 left to play amid this 20-game marathon stretch.

But where the older guard showed out on Wednesday night, the youth ensured that Baltimore would win comfortably. ’ sixth-inning homer was the highlight of a night that he, , and combined for six hits (and two walks), six RBIs and four runs scored -- with plenty more defensive gems.

“They’re three of my best friends in the world,” Stowers said. “To get to do that with them and help the team win together and share moments like that, we're going to try and enjoy each moment we get together.”

They’ve learned from Lyles this season, even though they don’t follow his direct footsteps on the pitching staff. But it comes from his example in the clubhouse, having been part of stretch runs before, and his demeanor on the mound to go deep into a start in spite of how much of a grind it might be.

Brought to Baltimore to eat innings this season, Lyles has done just that, his 170 frames are more than 60 better than next on the staff, with Dean Kremer at 105 1/3. With the loss of Means due to Tommy John surgery, Lyles has found himself as the only experienced arm on the staff.

None of his teachings -- both direct in open-door conversations with the young clubhouse and inherent with performance -- were more present than they were on Wednesday.

“It's really special,” said veteran batterymate . “You pick a guy in the whole rotation we have to throw a complete game, maybe Jordan is the guy. He's been throwing a lot of innings for us the whole year.”

Lyles’ outing was only the third time that a pitcher under manager Brandon Hyde (since 2019) completed at least eight innings. It was the first complete game by an Oriole at home since Dylan Bundy on Aug. 29, 2017, and required the fewest pitches (94) since Sidney Ponson used 88 on May 20, 2004, against Tampa Bay.

When Lyles returned to his dugout at 87 pitches after the eighth inning, there was no questioning from Hyde. He knew what Lyles’ expectation was.

“I didn't even talk to him,” Hyde said. “I had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do. I wanted him to go out there. It was awesome. Great start by him."

“It's really cool to be behind the plate for that outing,” Chirinos said.

Lyles is a far different pitcher from when he was a supplemental first-round Draft pick for the Astros in 2008. By necessity, he’s the sage voice at 31 years old. By practice, he’s an exemplary leader. He doesn’t look back on his career struggles -- a 54-79 record with a 5.21 ERA entering this season -- but appreciates his positioning now. He’s aided the Orioles to this improbable postseason contention, and possibly earned himself another year in Baltimore, the club holding an $11 million team option.

No number will put a true value on what he’s brought to Baltimore’s clubhouse -- not his 4.50 ERA, nor his contract. Lyles, from swingman to peripheral starter to oft-rumored trade chip, has found a home for the time being, one buoyed by those who surround him because of what he offers.

“It's more of a friendship, a bond-ship between the other guys and I,” Lyles said. “I'm glad that they were able to see that tonight, to have something in their minds.”