They all waited for Cedric Mullins — his teammates and the 25,682 fans at a raucous Camden Yards.
They stood, clapping, and when Mullins finally left the dugout to take his position in center field, that decibel level within Oriole Park rose. Mullins raised his glove as he passed first base, and still he was alone. He passed second base, and still the roars continued. And then he reached his outfield perch, turned in a circle to take in the cheers, and lifted his cap.
Then, and only then, did his teammates leave the dugout to join him.
The moment was Mullins’, and Mullins’ alone.
“Just felt like he deserved that moment,” said Austin Hays, who was the last Oriole (2022) to hit for the cycle.
A minute earlier, that dynamic Baltimore star completed what only six other Orioles have in the history of the franchise. He hit for the cycle, completing the journey by watching as his final hit sailed to right field and left the yard entirely for a three-run home run. In that manner, Mullins powered the Orioles to a 6-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Those are the kinds of moments you live for and dream about,” said Terrin Vavra, whose two-out walk allowed Mullins to hit one last time. “There’s no better way to cap that off.”
Mullins’ day began with a sharp line-drive single into right, took off with a water-spray-inducing triple into the gap and approached the momentous event with a critical seventh-inning double to begin a rally. From there, one inning later, Mullins turned on a changeup and sent it into the flag court beyond right field.
“Everything just kind of fell in line,” Mullins said.
Cedric Mullins is the seventh player in franchise history to hit for the cycle! pic.twitter.com/E0S5QZp4Sa— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) May 13, 2023
For three of those hits, the fans in section 86 were doused in water.
The water hose, held by Mr. Splash, was first pulled out for Mullins’ triple in the third. But that blow-up-flamingo-water-floatie-wearing man out beyond the left-center gap at Camden Yards needed to pick up the hose for two more Mullins at-bats, adjust the nozzle and commence spraying section 86.
Before the eighth inning, manager Brandon Hyde urged his players to turn the lineup over, to give Mullins another plate appearance. It had all set up for this, really, the long blast and the solo venture into center field.
After it all settled down, there was Hays, who has seen Mullins’ rise from the beginning. They were both drafted by the organization and were roommates throughout the minor leagues. They each experienced their highs and lows together, and when Mullins ditched switch hitting to focus solely on his left-handed swing, Hays was amazed by his friend’s confidence to adapt.
“The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I can’t believe we both did it,’ ” Mullins recalled Hays telling him.
But for as long as the odds are for a player to hit a cycle, the development of Mullins — from a 13th-round draft pick to a premier everyday center fielder — hasn’t surprised Hays in the least. And that all-around ability was best displayed Friday, with a diving catch early and that decisive swing late.
“He’s grown to be one of the best at everything you can do,” Hays said. “He’s been one of the best center fielders in all of baseball since he’s made that switch.”
“You look back at how far he’s come as a player, it’s unbelievable,” Hyde added. “He showed you tonight why he’s an All-Star-type player and why he’s so valuable to us.”
On the night the Orioles unveiled their Bird Bath section, several well-timed extra-base hits proved the difference for Baltimore against the Pirates. And with each knock, the hose came out and sprayed the sold-out section of fans.
For much of the night, the Orioles were parched for hitting with runners in scoring position. They still finished 3-for-13 in those situations, but catcher Adley Rutschman and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle came through in a big moment in the seventh, and then Mullins’ eighth-inning drive capped Baltimore’s third straight victory — and set the Orioles on the right foot against the third straight division-leading team they’ve played.
First it was the Atlanta Braves, and while the Orioles lost two of the three games, they had a chance to sweep. Then it was the Tampa Bay Rays, who own the best record in baseball yet fell twice at Camden Yards. And now it’s the Pirates, a team that has scuffled of late and continued on their slide in the series opener Friday.
Across those past seven games, Baltimore’s starting pitcher has reached a new height. Right-hander Kyle Bradish continued that run Friday, allowing three hits and one unearned run in six standout innings against Pittsburgh. In that span, Orioles starters have allowed nine earned runs in 39⅔innings.
“Staying one pitch at a time, throwing our stuff in the zone, challenging hitters,” Bradish said. “That’s what you got to do against good teams like this: put the pressure on them to hit the ball, and that’s what we’ve been doing. I think the whole team has stepped up these last few series.”
Bradish leaned heavily on his slider to find an advantage, and between that offering and his four-seam fastball, the 26-year-old forced 11 swings and misses on 30 swings. The lone run that crossed came in the third, an inning that began when Ji Hwan Bae first reached on an infield single that shortstop Jorge Mateo double-clutched a throw. Then Bae scored when Mateo’s throw home two batters later flew wide of catcher Adley Rutschman for an error.
But Bradish hardly put a foot wrong the rest of the way. Left-hander Danny Coulombe allowed a homer to Connor Joe, and right-hander Austin Voth gave up a run in the ninth, but closer Félix Bautista closed the door to preserve a game that was defined by Mullins.
He earned that moment alone, one player by himself on the field at Camden Yards, all eyes on the man who just achieved history.