How do you know that your team is really something special? When they win games that they have absolutely, positively, no business winning.
Witness tonight’s contest in Seattle. By all rights, this should have been an Orioles loss. Their opponent, George Kirby, hurled one of the most dominant performances by any pitcher against the O’s in recent memory, to the point that the Orioles didn’t even get a runner into scoring position until the ninth inning. They didn’t stand a chance. It was over.
Except it wasn’t. A tandem of six O’s pitchers held their ground, keeping the Mariners off the board for 10 innings, working out of every jam. A 10th-inning RBI single by Ryan Mountcastle put the Birds ahead, and Félix Bautista bounced back from two shaky outings with two dominant innings of work to close things out. Against all odds, the O’s wound up in the win column, tying the series, avoiding a sweep for the 77th straight time, and remaining two games ahead of the Rays in the AL East. That’s the good stuff.
Tonight was Félix Hernández Night at T-Mobile Park, as the longtime Mariners ace was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. (No word yet on when he’ll be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame. His three spring training starts for the Birds in 2021 will forever live in our hearts.) In honor of the former Cy Young winner, both of tonight’s starting pitchers unfurled their most spectacular outings of the season.
Let’s start with the more unexpected of the two masterpieces. The Orioles’ Cole Irvin, making his first start since July 7, absolutely dominated. Really! Looking nothing like the guy with a career 0-6 record and 8.42 ERA against the Mariners, Irvin was locked in from the get-go, setting the tone for his night with a perfect, nine-pitch first inning. He needed just 11 more pitches to retire all three batters in the second, then overcame the Mariners’ first baserunner — a Dylan Moore leadoff double in the third — with a groundout, strikeout, and popup to leave him stranded.
The M’s threatened again in the fourth when a walk and single put two runners aboard, but a harmless Tom Murphy flyout ended the inning. Irvin dispensed with any baserunners in the fifth, firing another 1-2-3 inning for his fifth scoreless frame. Irvin was battling his tail off, doing everything he could to put the O’s in position to win.
Unfortunately for Irvin, his counterpart, George Kirby, was simply untouchable. We already knew the 25-year-old was a good pitcher — the guy was an All-Star this year, after all — but the M’s right-hander was simply on another level tonight. Perhaps fired up by the King Félix festivities and the raucous, sellout crowd, Kirby had a little extra giddy-up on his fastball, clocking 99 mph twice in the opening inning and whiffing the first two batters of the game.
The O’s were aggressive at the plate, fully aware that Kirby has the lowest walk rate in the majors, but came up empty time and time again. Kirby spotted four pitches — four-seamer, sinker, curve, and changeup — with pinpoint precision, keeping O’s hitters flailing all night. When the Orioles managed to make contact, they hit nothing with authority, just a weak fly ball here and a soft grounder there.
If not for Ryan Mountcastle poking an opposite-field single to lead off the second, we’d have entered the eighth inning with Kirby carrying a no-hit bid. Instead, he settled for facing the minimum 21 batters through seven frames, erasing the Mountcastle single on an Austin Hays double play and proceeding to retire 19 consecutive O’s hitters.
Irvin, as good as he was, couldn’t keep up with Kirby’s excellence. The Orioles lefty, who wasn’t fully stretched out after pitching in relief for the past month, exited the game after throwing 67 pitches in five scoreless innings. Great job by Cole, who jumped right back into the rotation and looked like he’s been there all his life. With the combined efforts of Irvin and Kirby, the first five innings flew by in one hour and four minutes.
It was up to the Orioles bullpen to try to keep pace. It wasn’t pretty, but they kept the M’s off the scoreboard. Mike Baumann, after retiring the first two batters in the sixth, ran into trouble when a walk and double put two in scoring position, but Teoscar Hernandez lined out to left. Jacob Webb walked the leadoff man in the seventh but set down the next two before Cionel Pérez induced a groundout from pinch-hitter Mike Ford. And Yennier Cano was wild in the eighth — issuing a walk and HBP with one out — but pitched out of it on a flyout followed by a trickler down the first base line that he deftly fielded himself. The combined O’s shutout continued through eight.
It didn’t matter. The Orioles’ offense was incapable of solving Kirby, who returned to the mound in the ninth with just 85 pitches under his belt. Only in that final inning did the O’s put a runner in scoring position for the first time, thanks to Jordan Westburg’s leadoff single and stolen base. Kirby, though, was unfazed. He struck out Gunnar Henderson, retired Adley Rutschman on a grounder, and prompted a Cedric Mullins foul pop-up that Kirby, fittingly enough, caught himself. Kirby yelled and slammed his glove in celebration as he returned to the dugout to the ecstatic cheers of the Seattle crowd.
Nine innings. No runs. Three baserunners. That’s one of the best pitched games you’ll ever see. And certainly one of the best that didn’t result in the pitcher winning the game. (The last Mariners pitcher before Kirby to pitch nine or more innings in a loss? You guessed it: Félix Hernández.)
It was only fitting that the other Félix should make an appearance, too. Félix Bautista, coming off two subpar outings against the Astros, got right back on the horse tonight. He cruised through the ninth, getting help from Rutschman, who threw out Cade Marlowe trying to steal second after a single. (Marlowe was initially ruled safe, but replay review showed that he came off the bag after sliding in.)
At long last, with Kirby out of the game, the Orioles broke through in the top of the 10th. The automatic runner, Mullins, alertly stole third base when M’s reliever Andrés Muñoz didn’t pay attention to him, and the red-hot Mountcastle finally delivered the knock the O’s had been waiting for, a sharp single up the middle that brought home Cedric. A run! The O’s, though, wasted an opportunity for more. Shortstop Dylan Moore booted a grounder to put runners at the corners with one out, but the struggling Austin Hays popped out and ex-Mariner Adam Frazier struck out.
A one-run lead would have to do. And it was in good hands — specifically, the gigantic hands of Bautista. The O’s closer was in vintage form in the 10th, his second inning of work. The automatic runner never budged past second base, as Félix mowed down Josh Rojas, Julio Rodríguez, and Eugenio Suarez in quick succession, getting all three on a swinging strike three. Ballgame. Orioles win. That’s the Félix Bautista we know!
This, friends, was worth staying up for.