'Can't argue with it': O's nine-hole gambits pay off in a big way

May 17th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Most teams don’t get the type of power out of the No. 9 spot that the Orioles did on Tuesday night. Then again, it’s not often that sluggers such as or  are at the bottom of the order.

O’Hearn and Mountcastle split the designated-hitter responsibilities, and each went deep in a 7-3 victory over the Angels at Camden Yards. The duo combined to go 3-for-3 with a pair of homers, a double and three RBIs, helping Baltimore (27-15) avoid losing three straight home games for the first time this season.

It was the first time the Orioles have had two batters homer out of the No. 9 hole in the same game since Jeff Tackett and Chris Hoiles achieved the feat April 18, 1992, vs. the Tigers at Camden Yards.

“Pretty fun to have production like that,” O’Hearn said. “[Mountcastle] and I were joking all night about [how] we’re the best nine-hole duo in the league right now.”

How did Mountcastle, one of the O’s top sluggers, even end up in the No. 9 hole by the fourth inning after starting the game on the bench? It was “not by design,” according to manager Brandon Hyde, who didn’t anticipate getting Mountcastle into the game that early on a scheduled day off.

The slugger has played a lot early in the season, consuming almost all of Baltimore’s defensive innings at first base to this point. Mountcastle started there in 35 of the team’s first 40 games.

But Hyde is feeling comfortable with mixing in outfielder at first -- for good reason, given his impressive leaping grab in the second inning on Tuesday -- so the Orioles have some flexibility to give Mountcastle extra time off his feet by either starting him at DH (like they did Monday) or leaving him on the bench to begin the game (like on Tuesday).

O’Hearn, who has bounced between Triple-A Norfolk and the Majors early this year, was the DH and batted ninth, where he had previously started only seven times in 353 big league games. He wasn’t offended, though.

“When you have a lineup as talented as this, I don’t mind it at all,” O’Hearn said. “I just want to see my name in the lineup, contribute in any way possible.”

And he did. O’Hearn swatted his first home run for Baltimore in the second inning, when he delivered a game-tying two-out solo blast off Los Angeles right-hander Chase Silseth, belting a 2-2 splitter that was left over the middle of the plate onto the right-field flag court.

Then, O’Hearn’s night was over.

Silseth exited with one out in the fourth, and the Halos turned to lefty Tucker Davidson. Instead of a left-on-left encounter for O’Hearn, Hyde opted to play the matchups -- as he has often done this season -- by sending Mountcastle to the plate.

“I was just sitting on the bench, thought I had a pretty decent day off, I was like, ‘All right, I may need it,’” Mountcastle said. “Name got called in the fourth, and I was like, ‘All right, whatever, it is what it is,’ and I got up there.”

Mountcastle promptly blooped a double to left field, extending an O’s rally that resulted in three runs. Hyde’s decision had paid off.

“A couple things happened that [made me think] that was the right spot to use him there,” Hyde said.

Once Mountcastle’s bat was in the lineup, Hyde wasn’t going to take it out. The slugger remained in for the sixth, when he came up with a runner on second and one out to face Angels right-hander Andrew Wantz.

With one swing, Mountcastle broke the game open, as he belted a two-run shot a Statcast-projected 433 feet to straightaway center field on a first-pitch cutter from Wantz, sending it over the wall for a team-high ninth homer of the year to give Baltimore a 7-3 lead.

Among the numerous reasons for the Orioles’ early-season success is a built-in depth that allows them to rotate players in and out, keeping them fresh while ensuring they keep some potent bats in the order.

“We’ve got great hitters, one through nine,” Mountcastle said. “And even guys on the bench have been swinging it really well, too.”

Baltimore ranks fifth in the American League in both runs scored (212) and OPS (.749).

“It’s working,” O’Hearn said. “You can’t argue with it.”