TORONTO — Brandon Hyde left it up to Félix Bautista.
The Orioles manager saw his team escape a potential walk-off against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning Saturday because of Bautista’s fastball and knee-rattling splitter, but with a bullpen on fumes Hyde’s question came between the ninth and 10th innings.
Could Bautista, who had thrown 17 pitches in the ninth and 25 the day before, face at least two batters in the 10th?
“He wanted it,” Hyde said.
“I was ready to go,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones.
With that affirmation, Hyde’s late-game management shifted, looking for one run in the top of the 10th to give Bautista a lead to protect. The decision-making played out as Hyde had envisioned in the 6-5 victory against the Blue Jays in extra innings, and it left Baltimore with one of its gutsiest victories of the season.
There was Bautista, of course. But there were also Ryan O’Hearn and Grayson Rodriguez, the former who hit a game-tying three-run homer and the latter who bounced back from a dismal start with five strong innings.
In the end, though, it was Bautista who took center stage, recording the final six outs with a runner in scoring position. Twice Hyde came to Bautista to check — once between the ninth and 10th, and again during a 10th-inning mound visit — but Bautista trusted himself. And thus Hyde trusted Bautista.
“I’ll take my chances with Bautista with the lead,” Hyde said.
Those final two innings alone are so worthy of dissection that it distracts some from what Rodriguez accomplished but doesn’t diminish his five innings. Nor does it take accolades away from O’Hearn, who has played in only five games this month yet came through in the biggest spot.
But first: to the 10th inning.
After Bautista stranded two runners in the ninth, the extra-innings strategy Hyde employed on the road was different than Baltimore used during the series finale against the Atlanta Braves this month. In those top halves in extra innings, Hyde opted against having his leadoff hitter bunt the automatic runner from second to third.
This time, Hyde told infielder Adam Frazier to move automatic runner Ryan Mountcastle to third. How Frazier did it, Hyde didn’t care.
“I wasn’t going to mess around with it,” Frazier said, so he laid down a precise bunt that moved the go-ahead run to third with one out.
The subsequent ground ball by Austin Hays went straight to Matt Chapman, but the third baseman’s throw home struck Mountcastle in the back. Mountcastle, who ran on contact, was safe, giving the Orioles a lead for Bautista to protect.
Hyde changed his methodology because of who he had on the mound.
“Bautista. That was the consideration,” Hyde said. “They had Chapman leading off — not going to bunt. And I got Bautista going back out. … I’ll take our chances with a premier guy on the back end going back out.”
Still, Hyde had a contingency plan, knowing Bautista’s pitch count was rising and his usage the past week has been heavy. Bautista’s 31 pitches Saturday tied his second most this season, and it was the first time this year the closer completed two full innings.
Had a baserunner reached against Bautista, left-hander Cionel Pérez was ready to face the left-handed bat of Daulton Varsho. But after Bautista blew Chapman and Danny Jansen away with fastballs that touched 99 mph, Hyde made a mound visit to leave the choice in Bautista’s hands again.
“I just wanted to make sure he was OK,” Hyde said.
“Coming back out for the 10th just adds even more fuel,” Bautista said. “Knowing we have the lead, knowing we have the chance to close it out and get the win, obviously a lot of emotions. But just really excited to get to pitch both innings.”
Bautista reached 99.5 mph with his final fastball, sending Varsho packing the same way he did the first two Blue Jays hitters he faced. In all, Bautista struck out five batters, and he stranded three runners .
“Man, Félix, that’s a special talent,” said Rodriguez, who had long been out of the game at that point after his own impressive outing. “Being able to watch it on TV with some of the other pitchers who had already thrown in the game, man, it’s just electric.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Rodriguez showed impressive growth from his previous start, in which he allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings to the Los Angeles Angels. In Saturday’s outing, some of the same issues that have cropped up in other appearances found Rodriguez again. But for the most part Rodriguez’s five innings came in a positive package that included at least two yells into his glove after critical strikeouts but also a tendency to fall behind hitters.
Rodriguez threw first-pitch balls to 12 of the 21 batters he faced but allowed just one hit through his first three innings. His one mistake came on George Springer’s two-run homer in the fifth, leaving a 2-0 cutter over the plate.
“That’s a great team, a loaded lineup, and the emotions were a little high today,” Rodriguez said. “Going out there, having something to prove from that last outing, and really going out and attacking those guys.”
In front of more than 41,000 fans at Rogers Centre, the rookie starter handled the roars. O’Hearn’s three-run blast in the eighth momentarily quieted that crowd. And then Bautista came in and left those fans to stream into the Toronto night with a series loss — although this Orioles team is hungry for more.
“I think tomorrow’s a statement game,” O’Hearn said. “We won the series. If we can come in here and sweep these guys, I think that’s going to make a statement.”