With 3 walk-offs this week, these O's feel different

July 9th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- This feeling has long escaped this city. It’s a hole in the stomach. It’s pacing in the living room or anxious swaying back and forth in the stands, because staying still isn’t an option. It’s a feeling that has slowly been simmering back, revived mostly by the Orioles’ injection of exciting youth into the club’s farm system. But this year, it’s been because of the big league team, one that arrives at the ballpark with a belief it will win every night, surmount every deficit and lift up one another no matter the circumstances.

A total 27,814 Baltimoreans, the grand majority either wearing or nervously clutching their floppy hats distributed to fans, got that feeling back Friday night.

The Orioles, muscled by a late-game rally punctuated by Trey Mancini’s walk-off single, gave the most invigorated crowd at Camden Yards this season some awaited reasons to cheer in Friday night’s 5-4 comeback win over the Angels. The three-run rally in the ninth was precipitated by more modest ones in the seventh and eighth. But all were necessary for Baltimore’s sixth straight victory and third walk-off win in the span of the week.

“We need more Floppy Hat Nights,” quipped manager Brandon Hyde.

The horde of Orioles that doused and surrounded Mancini at first base became just the fourth team in the last 20 years to win three straight games in which they trailed entering the ninth inning, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The O’s have twice this season provided Camden Yards with three walk-off victories within the span of a week. Their eight walk-off wins trail only the Yankees’ 10.

"It was so exciting,” Mancini said. “One of the best wins I've been a part of in my time here. … There was a great energy. The fans brought it all night, and we fed off that, especially late. It was just an amazing comeback for us."

It’s not just the achievement that stands out on Friday night -- all five runs coming from the seventh inning onwards after being held listless by Angels rookie starter Reid Detmers through six -- but what it resembled in the macro: That the Orioles, expectations aside, find themselves just three games under .500 (41-44), five games back of second place in the vaunted AL East and just 4 1/2 back of an AL Wild Card spot -- all three spots currently inhabited by their divisional rivals.

It took the Orioles 85 games to win their 41st this season; it took the 2021 team 131 to do so.

The O’s will tell you the standings are not on their mind when they get to the ballpark, but the fact that it’s worth asking is a revelation around these parts. The lack of expectations and blue-collar ethic present across the clubhouse this season has been fuel for one of baseball’s best stories, even with the question of if Baltimore will sell at the Trade Deadline.

“The more you win, the more you win in different ways, the more experience you have with it, you know you're never out of a game,” Hyde said. “We've won in different ways this year, and I think that gives guys confidence.”

Friday was certainly different.

The fourth-largest crowd of the Orioles’ home slate had little to cheer for early, but the fans were desperate for something. That began in the seventh, the first three batters reaching and Austin Hays ultimately scoring on Ramón Urías’ single. Even when Angels reliever José Quijada struck out the next three batters to end the threat, there was no inner doubt collected.

“We just communicate really well,” Mancini said. “We cheer each other on, and it's been a really lively dugout this year, way more so than the other years I've been here."

“We had a great keep-the-line-moving attitude,” Hyde said.

That manifested in the eighth, with Ryan Mountcastle nicking another run off the Angels’ bullpen before two more strikeouts cut the rally short. An anxious crowd, though, was finding its own rhythm.

And it came true no more than in the ninth. Down to the last out, veteran Rougned Odor hammered a single the opposite way to move the line to Adley Rutschman. A double from Rutschman and a single from Cedric Mullins had the game tied for Mancini. The longest-tenured Oriole was primed to get his home ballpark to erupt once more.

"We really feed off that a lot,” Mancini said, remembering the Orioles’ five walk-offs in August-September 2017. “… This felt a lot like that tonight. It was unbelievable to be a part of and such a great team win for us."

But what’s different? Yes, the roster has changed from last season, the Orioles feeling more talented than they have through much of this rebuild. But it’s more.

“Accountability. I think that'd be the right word,” said starter Tyler Wells. “The older guys are holding us younger guys accountable. It's all about dugout energy, it's always about, speaking up, being there for your teammates when you need them -- much like tonight.”

"We had a really never-die attitude in the dugout,” Hyde said. “… It’s the loudest dugout we've had here since I've been here, even though we're pretty empty offensively entering that seventh inning. There's still a positive vibe that we can come back, and we came through."