O's cause chaos with triple play, ninth-inning rally

September 18th, 2022

TORONTO -- In a game with many twists and turns, the Orioles saved their best for last.

In the top of the ninth inning of Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, pinch-hitter Kyle Stowers started the comeback by rapping an opposite-field single off Toronto closer Jordan Romano. Just like that, a rally was born.

The leadoff single seemed to rattle the typically unflappable reliever. And in the biggest of spots, Baltimore opted for a second straight pinch-hitter, Ramon Urías. The 28-year-old singled, then Cedric Mullins walked to load the bases.

With the fate of the game -- and the O’s potential playoff hopes -- hanging in the balance, stepped to the plate. The rookie phenom had been locked in all series, having already reached base seven times. Against Romano, Rutschman kept the hot stretch going.

The 24-year-old needed just two pitches to break the game open, turning a heater on his hands into a line-drive single to left field.

“It was definitely a big moment,” Rutschman said. “When you're in the box, you just try and relax as much as you can, stick to your approach. … Ideally don't let the situation get too big where you get outside your approach.”

The clutch base hit scored two runners and flipped Baltimore ahead at the very last moment, but the Blue Jays battled back in the bottom of the ninth.

Cavan Biggio worked a walk off O’s closer Félix Bautista and George Springer came within inches of tying the contest with a double off the wall. Bautista slowed the game down, though, retiring Bo Bichette via a groundout in a very tense spot for the final out of the game.

“One of our better wins of the year,” said Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde. “Especially when these last couple of days have been so disappointing and [we] just felt like we were unlucky in a lot of ways. … But for us to come back off a premier closer, with a couple of guys coming off the bench giving us some big hits, it was a total, total team effort.”

The late-game heroics from Rutschman made for a nice bookend in a game that was playing out to be a very untimely series sweep on the road. The O’s have drawn momentum from chaotic moments all season, and their early energy began when the club pulled off an elusive triple play in the third inning.

Good positioning and a stroke of luck helped the cause, but when Matt Chapman ripped a line drive up the middle, Baltimore was ready. There were runners on first and second, but Jorge Mateo was in the perfect spot at short.

Mateo nabbed the liner, flipped to Terrin Vavra at second to double off Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and then Vavra fired to first, nabbing Bichette, who wandered too far away from the bag. The Rogers Centre crowd went dead quiet, stunned at what it had just witnessed.

Mateo was fired up after the play, and for good reason. The 27-year-old had just initiated one of the rarest plays in baseball and Baltimore’s first triple play since 2017, and 15th overall in Orioles history. That funky play was a massive boost to morale, as the O’s hopped right out of the jam, sparing starter some high-leverage at-bats against the Blue Jays’ high-powered batting order.

“Huge,” said Kremer, describing the impact of the triple play behind him. “No outs to three outs, now I'm out of the inning after giving up one run. It turned my day into six innings instead of potentially three innings, or whatever it was.”

The momentum swung into the top half of the next inning, too, when Mateo drove a clutch double down the left-field line as the Orioles broke through for their first run of the game against AL Cy Young candidate Alek Manoah.

As a whole, the defense looked much improved after a shaky effort on Saturday. The triple play was solid, but Mateo also made an excellent backhanded scoop and jump throw to get an important out in the sixth inning. Vavra, the co-star of the triple play, made a fantastic diving snag in the top of the ninth, and Gunnar Henderson played a flawless game at the hot corner.

Those defensive gems didn’t seem significant when Baltimore was behind, but they provided stability that made the ninth-inning rally possible.

“[Vavra] played well at second base today, made a nice diving catch, took good ABs again,” Hyde said. “So great to see our young guys getting this experience, contributing.”

The Orioles have been up and down in September, but the win now gives them an 8-8 record this month. With upcoming series against the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees, the final stretch will be a continuous uphill battle.

Before the gauntlet of a schedule begins, however, Baltimore gets a welcome return to Camden Yards, where they boast a 41-30 record, for a winnable series against the Tigers that just might keep the Orioles’ playoff flame burning.

“We just gotta keep grinding,” said Hyde. “Today was a grind, tomorrow’s gonna be [a grind]. We have a tough time having easy wins. It makes this exciting. But [there’s] a lot of fight in our club, and I don't see it stopping.”