Adley Rutschman blacked out.
He really doesn’t remember much about what happened in the moments right after he unleashed on a fastball left in the middle of the zone Thursday by Oakland Athletics right-hander Trevor May. If he looks back on a highlight, he’ll see that he extended his arm, pointing to the dugout, as the ball flew higher and higher in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“One of those moments that you hit it, and you just start running because you don’t know what’s going on,” Rutschman said.
Rutschman finally came to when he noticed the outfielders slow their sprint to a jog and look up longingly at a ball they wouldn’t be able to catch. Then the excitement set in.
As the heartbeat of the lineup and of this team, Rutschman delivered the first over-the-fence walk-off homer of his entire career, at any level, he said. Rutschman recounted how he had an inside-the-park homer at Oregon State.
“Sorry, that’s old — college,” Rutschman said. “Gotta close the yearbook.”
Rutschman has a new memory to line up next to that, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With that one swing, Rutschman’s 405-foot blast to right-center field finished off an 8-7 win over the Oakland Athletics and ensured Baltimore (7-6) took three of the four games in this series.
“He likes to be up there when the game’s on the line,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He likes to be up there in RBI spots, and he’s got a lot of confidence.”
That confidence extends both ways.
Rutschman is hitting .373 with four homers, nine RBIs and a 1.094 on-base-plus-slugging percentage this year. The 25-year-old has a hit in seven straight games and has reached base safely in 10 straight. And when he stepped to the plate as the first batter to face May, all eyes locked on the former first overall pick.
“It’s something we know he’s very capable of, and he’s someone we’re very thankful to have on this team,” Jorge Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We know what he’s able to do.”
In the heat of the moment, the Baltimore players spilling out of the dugout forgot to grab the Homer Hose. Rutschman settled for a Gatorade bath instead.
The series wasn’t always pretty — in fact, it usually was not. But as Rutschman got doused in blue Gatorade by his teammates at home plate, the issues that plagued the team throughout Thursday’s game and this series were momentarily washed away in the elation of the moment.
Here Rutschman was, the centerpiece of the squad, lifting the Orioles when they needed it most.
The season is only 13 games old, so any snap judgements would be imprudent. Labeling this pitching staff as irredeemable would be foolish, given the ebbs and flows of a 162-game campaign.
But to dismiss any concern at all based on a two-week sample size would be out of touch with reality, as well. And reality hasn’t been kind to the Orioles’ pitching staff.
“I’m concerned about our pitching in general right now,” Hyde said. “I feel like we’re going to turn the corner, that we’re going to improve, but we’ve got to go deeper into games.”
On Thursday, left-hander Cole Irvin lasted just four innings, becoming the latest starter who failed to shelter an already taxed bullpen: There have been 10 instances out of those 13 games in which the starting pitcher hasn’t been able to record an out in the sixth inning.
Irvin allowed six runs on five hits, with two walks with two outs in the fourth inning setting the stage for a two-run single from Esteury Ruiz. While Irvin hoped to return in the fifth, Hyde opted for a change, even though the bullpen has covered too many innings already.
“I’m just shooting myself in the foot,” Irvin said. “Shooting myself in the foot, just walks, hit by pitches, just bad pitches in bad locations that I know not to go to. So, I mean, it’s just small stuff I really need to continue to clean up. I’m not happy with how these first three have gone.”
That trend isn’t sustainable, even as the bullpen Thursday covered five innings with one run against them. That run came off right-hander Austin Voth, who allowed Brent Rooker’s third homer of the series to begin the fifth inning — and for Voth, it’s his fifth homer allowed in five appearances this season.
The Orioles were competitive throughout the four-game series against the Athletics — and that’s not entirely a good thing, considering Baltimore’s aspirations to compete against the best in baseball rather than the bottom-dwellers.
The organization has started making changes to the roster, designating catcher Anthony Bemboom for assignment in order to call up first baseman and outfielder Ryan O’Hearn.
O’Hearn always felt as though this is where he belonged. His performances backed up that belief during spring training, and even when he didn’t make the Orioles’ opening day roster, his continued success emphasized that his time with Triple-A Norfolk wouldn’t drag on.
“I feel like this is where I belonged,” O’Hearn said in the clubhouse at Camden Yards on Thursday morning, “and this is obviously where I want to be.”
O’Hearn had to wait for this chance out of spring training, but once he was added to the 40-man roster Thursday and inserted into the lineup straightaway for the series finale against the Athletics, O’Hearn didn’t waste any more time.
In his first plate appearance with the Orioles, the 29-year-old squeezed a single through the infield to drive in two runs to make an immediate impact in Baltimore — and that won’t be his last.
He made sure of that throughout Thursday’s series finale against the Athletics, driving in his third RBI with a sacrifice fly before hitting a single again in the eighth. O’Hearn — and the rest of Baltimore’s batters — helped cover for a pitching staff that has begun the season in worrisome form.
And then Rutschman finished the deal with one swing, earned one Gatorade bath and sealed one victory.
“Felt awesome,” Rutschman said. “You’ve just got so much adrenaline going at that point you don’t really know what’s going on.”