CHICAGO — It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because even in such a short career, Adley Rutschman has made a habit of this.
In Corvallis, where Rutschman starred for the Oregon State Beavers, they called him “Clutchman.” The nickname should translate to Baltimore, if it hasn’t already. All the hype in the world — and for a former first-overall pick labeled as the savior of a franchise before he stepped onto the field in Orioles gear, there has been plenty — can’t overstate what Rutschman has done so far in his first full season in the major leagues.
So perhaps it was an eventuality more so than anything else when Rutschman came to the plate with bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning Friday against the Chicago White Sox. He took two outside strikes, not because he was fooled but because he waited for something more to his liking. And when it came, a 100-mph fastball from Reynaldo López, Rutschman pounced.
The bases-clearing double split the left-center field gap. The Orioles went from an anemic offensive performance to leading in one swing. That’s Rutschman — or is it Clutchman?
Whatever he goes by, he powered Baltimore to a 6-3 series-opening win at Guaranteed Rate Field against the White Sox, turning on the faucets for an offense that had momentarily run dry.
“Adley is Superman right now,” right-hander Tyler Wells said.
Does he have any Kryptonite?
“We haven’t found it yet,” Wells said. “And hopefully we don’t find it at all this season.”
Over the first six innings against right-hander Mike Clevinger, the Orioles managed one hit. Then Rutschman’s double broke through against the bullpen, and the combination of Austin Hays, Jorge Mateo and Ryan O’Hearn (each of whom hit consecutive doubles in the eighth inning) provided the insurance runs.
“Once we got into the ‘pen, we had a really nice rally,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “And then Adley just doing what he’s been doing, just getting huge hits for us.”
Rutschman blasted the first walk-off homer of his career in Thursday’s win against the Oakland Athletics, then produced three walks and three RBIs the next evening to pace Baltimore’s offense. This season, the 25-year-old is hitting .377 with a 1.134 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
It was an offensive performance Wells deserved behind him, even if he had to wait until he was out of the game to receive it.
“I think for us, it’s: we’re down but not out,” Rutschman said. “We did a lot of that last year and to be able to do it tonight speaks volumes about the guys we have in this locker room.”
For five innings, Wells displayed the dependability he showed in his two previous appearances this season and what was on display for much of last year. He allowed a solo home run to Jake Burger in the second inning, when his cutter caught too much of the plate, but beyond that retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced through those five frames.
But Wells hit a wall in the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff double from Elvis Andrus and Andrew Benintendi knocked Andrus in with a single. An Eloy Jiménez single later in the frame tacked on another before right-hander Mike Baumann entered in relief and ended the threat.
Wells said the White Sox “just got a barrel on a few” in the sixth inning and that he didn’t fatigue. The soft contact added up into those two additional runs. Still, Wells compiled a strong outing. He and right-hander Kyle Gibson remain the lone Orioles starters to record at least one out in the sixth inning, with each doing so twice.
“It was a little rough around the edges, but overall I think I was commanding pitches decently and I think I kept guys off balance,” Wells said. “I wouldn’t say I was very happy with the end result, but overall I would say I was happy with the way I was controlling the game.”
And while the Orioles bullpen has been taxed, the addition of right-hander Yennier Canó came at the right time Friday.
Canó forced an inning-ending double play to end the seventh, stranding two runners he inherited from left-hander Cionel Pérez. He returned and worked a clean eighth inning. The Orioles believe in Canó's stuff, even though he walked five batters and allowed nine runs in 4 1/3 innings last season for Baltimore.
“The Canó show today,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Last year he struggled throwing strikes up here. He’s been throwing strikes in spring training and in Norfolk, and that’s huge for us right now, to have a guy who can get right-handers to hit the ball on the ground the way he did.”
Canó passed the baton to right-hander Félix Bautista, who pitched on back-to-back days for the first time this season and secured his fourth save.
But all of that was possible because of a two-strike, two-out swing from a player known as Clutchman, clearing the bases and sending the Orioles on their way.