Playoff-race atmosphere invaluable to O's

September 19th, 2021

BOSTON -- As September winds down with just 14 games to play, the Orioles aren’t taking the field with the hopes of punching a last-minute ticket to October baseball. But the majority of their remaining opponents are.

This month, 20 of Baltimore’s 28 games are against a postseason contender, including six vs. a Boston club chasing an American League Wild Card spot. The O’s wrapped their first of two series this month against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, falling 8-6 to their division foe.

Though they’ve won just six of their 18 games this month, the Orioles have managed to keep themselves in games against contenders, with six of their losses determined by two runs or fewer.

Despite the outcomes, the difficult schedule has proved to be an invaluable experience for many of the younger O’s.

“A huge amount of our team hasn’t played too much time in the Majors,” Trey Mancini said. “So these September games, the teams we’re competing with basically the rest of the way, and have been this month, are fighting for a playoff spot. … So it’s our job to go out there and play our best and try to win every day. And it’s just big, especially these road games, playing in this atmosphere ... when the stakes are high; it’s really really valuable for these guys to be playing in that situation.”

One such player is 24-year-old , who allowed five runs on six hits with two strikeouts in the finale. It was his second straight start surrendering five runs, with his last outing coming against the Yankees on Sept. 14.

“It’s been pretty difficult,” said Wells of facing AL East hitters, “but a challenge which I’ve been looking forward to, to play in the AL East, since Day One of signing. So I’m always up for the challenge and just want to keep it going.”

The oldest starter for the Orioles this weekend was 26-year-old Keegan Akin, who opened the series on Friday. Zac Lowther, 25, went on Saturday, with Wells rounding out the series as the youngest starter of the weekend.

“A lot of our pitchers are facing Major League hitters really for the first time, don’t have a ton of Triple-A experience or success, and it’s kind of tough. It’s very, very tough,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “[They're] ballparks and tough environments to pitch in, and hopefully they can learn from those and ... get better going forward. But also our bullpen, too ... [Eric] Hanhold was really good today. [Conner] Greene doesn’t have much Major League experience, so he’s going to have some ups and downs, he’s been throwing the ball well. So not a ton of experience on our club, and we’re facing good clubs.”

Sunday marked the first time the Orioles faced Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi since they opened the season against the right-hander on April 2. In that first game of the year, the O’s tagged Eovaldi for one run on four hits in a win. They fared better on Sunday, with three runs, seven hits and one walk in his five-inning outing.

All of the damage done vs. Eovaldi came in the third frame, with the top of the order stringing together a single, a walk, an RBI double and an RBI single, plus a stolen base.

“Really pleased with scoring six runs, getting 10 hits on an Eovaldi start, that gave us a chance to win today,” Hyde said. “But [it's] tough to compete when you’re giving seven, eight, nine runs a game.”

In the first two games of the series, Baltimore held its own until Boston broke it open in the sixth both times. Unlike the prior two games, in which Boston’s sixth-inning tears went unanswered, the Orioles found a late-inning big hit of their own in the finale. After Boston reliever Hirokazu Sawamura walked the first three batters of the seventh, Mancini stepped up and cleared the bases with a double. Mancini, who sat Saturday as he monitors ab soreness, was thrown out trying to stretch for a triple, but he nonetheless gave the Orioles their first lead of the day. The lead didn’t last, with Boston putting up a three-run inning of their own in the bottom half.