SEATTLE — Cedric Mullins hadn’t yet watched the replay, but it all stood in sharp relief upon his mind.
He knows his first read was good. He sprinted back, checked the wall, and he remembers how big and bright the sun was when he turned his head back to find that tiny white speck flying toward the wall. His sunglasses flashed, reflecting that light, and he kept running and then leaped and fell and had no idea whether the ball was in his glove or out of the ballpark.
Then he felt it.
“I have it running through my head,” Mullins said of what he called potentially the best catch of his career. “I know exactly what I felt in the moment. Crazy. Crazy.”
It was nestled in his glove, that little white baseball, and the emotions coursed through him for the first — yet not last — time in Sunday’s series-ending 5-3 victory against the Seattle Mariners. Mullins rose to his feet and unleashed a fist pump and roar that stood in stark contrast to the groans that otherwise circled T-Mobile Park at the time.
That was only the start of a chaotic late afternoon in Seattle that can best be boiled down to Mullins.
“I was trying to give him a break today,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “and he ended up winning the game for us.”
Once Mullins was inserted off the bench in the late innings, he took over the game in ways only he can, and they can best be described by the noise — and almost equally as loud silence — that followed Mullins’ most defining plays of the season.
The contrasting emotions stood in sharper contrast than ever because of how quickly they swung from one to the next. When he robbed Ty France of a game-tying home run in the ninth, T-Mobile Park momentarily deflated. Then two pitches after Mullins pulled back a homer, Dominic Canzone powered a solo shot to deep right field to tie the game against right-hander Mike Baumann.
But only 10 minutes later Mullins silenced an audience for a second time. The Mariners faithful hadn’t come for him, yet they received a captivating display anyway.
Mullins hit a home run foul, then came back and turned on a high fastball and drove it to right field, lifting a two-run homer that gave Baltimore enough cushion to make right-hander Shintaro Fujinami’s 10th inning less stressful — securing his first major league save.
“Pretty unbelievable,” catcher James McCann said. “You see guys make extremely good defensive plays and end up coming up with a big-time hit, but how many times do you see someone make that play, hit a homer foul and then hit a homer? Especially for a guy who didn’t even start the game, coming off the bench, making a huge play and then maybe an even bigger hit, words don’t really describe how big he was for us today.”
Mullins played just his third game since returning from his second injured list stint due to a groin strain. He missed almost two months combined between his first and second injury designations, but he returned Friday feeling as though the hindrance was behind him.
Without Mullins in center field, Baltimore has capable options. But he displayed what makes him such an integral piece to the Orioles on Sunday.
“It’s Gold Glove center field,” Hyde said. “That’s a Gold Glove at a premium position on the field. He shows that every single night. It’s a difference when he’s not out there. Just not only that, but the speed factor, the power.”
The last two innings felt like a complete game unto themselves. Hyde called the emotions up and down, and that’s because the ninth and 10th innings pulled everyone in different directions.
In the top half of the ninth, the Orioles captured a narrow edge because of shortstop Jorge Mateo’s speed. The orange mitten Mateo wears on his left hand stood in stark contrast to the white of home plate, and he narrowly made it before Cal Raleigh’s tag.
That could be Mateo’s defining quality for the Orioles down the stretch. He didn’t start Sunday’s series finale either, but he entered as a pinch runner at second base in the ninth — an injection of speed that Hyde hoped could change the complexion of the ballgame.
Mateo reached third when right-hander Andrés Muñoz balked. And then when Adley Rutschman hit a dribbler back to the mound, Mateo took off toward the plate undaunted by the nearness of the ball.
“Little things matter so much: the Mateo running on contact,” Hyde said. “We just did things over and over again so well this series.”
Well before those game-defining moments, right-hander Kyle Bradish continued his strong second season as a major leaguer by rebounding from a season-high five walks against the New York Mets. Bradish’s control returned in his six innings against the Mariners. He allowed two runs — both of which came on two-out knocks — while striking out seven and walking just one.
“Still having some issues with getting the slider where I want it,” Bradish said. “Left a couple up there. But definitely an improvement from last week.”
It was Bradish’s seventh quality start in his last nine appearances, giving a base to build upon for Baltimore despite a sluggish offensive showing against right-hander Bryce Miller. The Orioles plated two runs against the rookie, then added against the bullpen.
Baltimore’s bullpen, meanwhile, proved stout all weekend. The solo homer against Baumann was the lone run the group allowed, and without Félix Bautista available after his six-out masterpiece Saturday, Hyde relied on other names in big spots.
Fujinami, called on late in a save situation, fell behind his first batter. He has shown a tendency to be wild, but when he’s in the zone the tall right-hander can dominate. Down 3-0 in the count, McCann made a mound visit that changed the outing.
“I just reminded him he’s got nasty stuff,” McCann said. “Just fill it up. These hitters don’t want to face you. You throw strikes, we’re going to get out of this.”
Fujinami retired the side in order, locking down a wild game.
But the display from Mullins, especially, enthralled. He can rob home runs and hit home runs. And, for the Orioles, his doing both Sunday handed them a series win.
“There’s always a scenario of what’s better: robbing a home run or hitting one,” Mullins said. “But to do it basically within an inning is pretty cool.”