Westburg belts walk-off HR after O's unveil 'home run handlebars'

April 2nd, 2024

BALTIMORE -- Over the course of a few hours at Camden Yards on Monday night, the following events all took place:

hit pretend wheelies with a set of dirt bike handlebars in the dugout. Defenders dove all over the field making big plays. Pitchers worked out of jams. trotted around the bases following a walk-off home run. And, finally, the team celebrated, hollering and jumping as “Orioles Magic” blared over the speaker system.

Here go the entertaining, fun-to-watch, fun-having Orioles again.

A game that featured the introduction of a new home run prop ended when Westburg belted an opposite-field, two-run homer over the right-center-field wall. Baltimore topped Kansas City, 6-4, to continue a strong 3-1 start to the 2024 season.

“That was the coolest moment of my career so far,” said Westburg, who owns only 72 games of big league experience. “I’ve never had a walk-off in all the years I’ve played baseball, so to have my first one here in Baltimore is pretty special.”

It was only fitting for the O’s to win on a homer after unveiling their new set of orange “home run handlebars” earlier in the night.

During the fourth inning, Mountcastle hit a game-tying, two-run homer over the left-field wall off Royals starter Michael Wacha. Upon Mountcastle’s return to the dugout, he was handed the handlebars by teammate Colton Cowser.

Last year, Mountcastle was the first Baltimore player to use the celebratory “homer hose,” drinking water from it last April 10. Now, he broke in the handlebars.

“They handed them to me and I didn't really know what to do with it, so I was like, 'OK.' I honestly didn't know what it was as I grabbed them. I was like, ‘Are these handlebars?’” Mountcastle said with a laugh. “I was wheeling it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so that’s why I did it.”

Nobody should be surprised that left-hander Cole Irvin -- a co-creator of the “homer hose” -- was the purchaser of the handlebars. He’s proven to be the prop guy over his first two seasons in Baltimore.

After the Orioles started to celebrate extra-base hits with a “vroom, vroom” motion on the basepaths over the weekend -- simulating riding a dirt bike -- Irvin figured it only made sense to buy an actual pair of handlebars.

“I’ve been saying, ‘The boys are on X Games mode,’” Irvin said. “We’re having fun with it.”

Following Mountcastle’s inaugural “ride,” Monday’s game took various twists and turns.

Baltimore appeared poised to win entering the ninth inning. Mountcastle made a tremendous diving play to keep the game tied in the seventh, then right-hander Yennier Cano escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of that inning, Mountcastle legged out an RBI infield single to give the O’s a 4-3 lead.

But Craig Kimbrel’s Orioles debut in the top of the ninth resulted in a blown save, as Kansas City’s Kyle Isbel hit a bloop single, then pinch-runner Dairon Blanco stole second and third before scoring the tying run on a Maikel Garcia sac fly.

Baltimore immediately bounced back in the bottom of the ninth. Cedric Mullins hit a one-out single off Royals right-hander Nick Anderson, who then promptly gave up Westburg’s walk-off homer.

Westburg put up big power numbers in the Minors, hitting 45 homers in 205 games between Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie over the past two seasons. However, he hit only three during his 68-game debut stint in the big leagues last year.

“He’s just adjusting to Major League pitching,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “You see it in batting practice and he’s shown it in the Minor Leagues that he can drive the ball out of the ballpark, and to all fields. ... Hopefully, as he continues to get comfortable, you’ll start seeing that more often.”

Since reporting to Spring Training in February, Westburg has visibly been more comfortable in a big league setting. So as he gains experience, his numbers could keep going up.

“I’m going to try to stick to my process, stick to not thinking about the results too much,” Westburg said.

If the results come, then so will the fun. Much like his Orioles teammates, Westburg can be all about that, too.

Westburg enjoyed seeing the handlebars celebration. He soaked in the walk-off atmosphere. And he’s even growing a mustache -- perhaps one that could appropriately evolve into a handlebar style?

“It didn’t start off that way. But now that you mention it, it wouldn’t be bad,” Westburg said. “I don’t know if I can get it to connect all the way down. And I honestly don’t know how long this thing is going to last. But it might be a fun thing to try.”

There surely shouldn’t be any shortage of fun again in Baltimore this year.