There was nowhere Tyler Wells deserved to be more than on the mound in the ninth inning Thursday night, with the Camden Yards crowd on its feet surrounding him and the collective screams of an entire city waiting to be unleashed upon the third out.
It was because of Wells’ right arm that the Orioles were in that position, on the cusp of an American League East championship and their 100th win. The 29-year-old powered his way through the first half of the season as Baltimore’s best starting pitcher. He opened the second half and appeared to hit a wall, was optioned to the minor leagues and remained there until last week.
In all that time away, Wells missed a final surge toward the pinnacle of baseball’s most difficult division. He missed when the Orioles clinched the postseason nearly two weeks ago, and he missed the ensuing champagne celebration.
But Wells, who held a 3.18 ERA before the All-Star break, was an integral piece in all of this. So it was only natural that he was on the mound Thursday night and that it was his final pitch that prompted the uproar that rang around Camden Yards and into downtown Baltimore.
Wells was where he belonged: on the mound in Baltimore. And after missing the first celebration, Wells was a central figure in the follow-up.
“It was a full-circle moment,” right-hander Dean Kremer said. “I mean, we wouldn’t be here without him.”
The journey for Wells to this position was about as straightforward as a mountain switchback. He was a Rule 5 draft selection and made the team because Baltimore needed arms — and Wells stuck, first as a reliever in 2021 as he made his return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and later as a starter.
Each year, he built. He closed games for the 110-loss 2021 Orioles. He started games on a pitch limit in 2022. He hit a wall midway through 2023, dropped to Double-A Bowie before a rise to Triple-A Norfolk. And, at the end of it all, Wells is back.
Manager Brandon Hyde credited the way Wells “swallow[ed] his pride a little, honestly,” when he accepted his option to Double-A. First baseman Ryan O’Hearn recognized Wells for taking it all in stride.
“I think my time down in the minor leagues really gave me a better perspective on what it means to be up here,” Wells said. “I’m incredibly gracious and thankful. To be a part of something that has been years in the making — not just for myself or the guys in the clubhouse, but the organization and city of Baltimore — it’s unbelievably gratifying, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to celebrate with a lot of these guys.”
Wells was cognizant of not moping around when he arrived in the minors. He wanted to continue pitching for the Orioles, of course, to continue what he started earlier in the year. But Wells changed his mindset to what laid directly in front of him.
He started three games for Bowie. Then came the conversation with Orioles management and a pitch they wanted to run by Wells first.
Could he work out of the bullpen again?
In spring training, Wells was adamant about what he viewed as his role with Baltimore. He had pitched out of the bullpen before, but that was out of necessity, to protect a recently repaired elbow. But now? Wells wanted a way back to Baltimore, and if relief was his clearest path to impacting the major league team, so be it.
“I was extremely supportive of it, because for me, I want to be able to put the team first in this circumstance,” Wells said. “We have an opportunity to do something that is really just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I think that sometimes you’ve got to be able to put yourself behind the bigger picture.”
On the night Baltimore clinched its first playoff berth since 2016, Wells was in Norfolk. He was there with a whole cast of players who had been involved in what the Orioles had accomplished, yet they were away from the champagne supernova kicking off in the clubhouse.
Hyde and general manager Mike Elias FaceTimed the group, thanking them for their involvement. And then Wells, Anthony Bemboom, Joey Ortiz, Kyle Stowers, Bryan Baker, Cole Irvin, Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi gathered at a bayside restaurant with a view of the water.
They sat for hours, talking about life and baseball and celebrations. They knew the Orioles were celebrating with beer and champagne and cigars so, as they watched the marsh grasses wave in a breeze, they lit their own cigars.
It was peaceful.
It was about as different from the celebration Wells experienced Thursday as possible, with blaring music and stinging eyes from the champagne that flew everywhere. He was in the tempest now, part of the revelry again, but his mind still lingered back to that bayside restaurant in Norfolk, when a return to Baltimore — a return to a save situation on an AL East clinch night — was as cloudy as the cigar smoke wafting from their table.
“That one was special in its own way,” Wells said. “I wish those guys were here as well. But I’m unbelievably grateful and happy to be up here tonight.”