It was a first-pitch ambush from Toronto’s Brandon Belt. He jumped all over the fastball Orioles reliever Mike Baumann had left over the heart of the plate. He stood and admired, then dropped his bat and rounded the bases.
Before Belt powered the Blue Jays to a 6-3 victory in 10 innings Tuesday night at Camden Yards, Baumann had allowed just five homers in his 60 1/3 innings. He hadn’t been charged with a loss, either, holding a perfect 9-0 record in his new high-leverage role.
But with that swing, Belt unloaded on a pitcher who has otherwise been one of the Orioles’ most stout options, and it led to Baltimore’s first extra-innings loss in its last six attempts. Baumann’s second pitch resulted in a double, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wound up scoring on a wild pitch — part of an uncharacteristic outing from Baumann.
“Belt’s been a very, very good hitter for a long time. Just looking for a fastball over the plate, obviously, and he got every bit of it,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Had our opportunities before that and didn’t quite get it done.”
And as the Orioles (77-48) dropped a late game, the Tampa Bay Rays made up ground with a win, cutting Baltimore’s American League East lead to two games.
The Orioles’ offense sputtered in the later innings, yet they still had a chance to walk the contest off in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ryan McKenna led off the frame with a single, and with two outs, Toronto opted to intentionally walk Ryan Mountcastle, a player with a history of success against the Blue Jays.
With two on and two outs, however, rookie of the year candidate Gunnar Henderson grounded out, ending the threat.
Hyde used closer Félix Bautista in the ninth inning to preserve the level score, and if Baltimore had gone ahead, Bautista likely would’ve returned. Instead, Baumann earned the first loss of his season, ending what had been a resilient display from the entire Orioles pitching staff on a down note.
“Tie game at home, I lose him [Bautista] for the series if he pitches again,” Hyde said. “I need him for the next 37 games, too.”
Earlier, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez left the mound for the final time at the end of the sixth inning with a yell into his glove, fired up after his 99.3 mph fastball froze Danny Jansen for a strikeout. This wasn’t Rodriguez’s sharpest outing since returning from the minor leagues, but perhaps that emphasized how far Rodriguez has come more than anything.
He completed six innings for the third straight start — and fourth time in his last five — after having failed to do so in any of his first 12. The 23-year-old teetered at times Tuesday but never toppled, and it allowed Rodriguez to celebrate after his shutdown inning.
“I think a lot of credit goes to Mac [James McCann] back there — veteran catcher, not sure I get through that without him,” Rodriguez said. “Really just having him back there behind the plate, he was a big part of it tonight.”
Rodriguez’s command wasn’t there to begin. He gave up a single and walk in the first before a double play ended the threat, but then allowed the first four batters to reach against him in the second, including a two-run home run from Daulton Varsho. Mountcastle helped him escape the jam, though, with a diving catch of a liner that turned into a double play as he lunged and tagged first.
Kevin Kiermaier’s double in the fourth provided a third run against Rodriguez, and Rodriguez finally recorded his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth.
His velocity was still there, and he used it well as he struck out two batters in that frame. He also finished with seven whiffs on his changeup, leaning almost exclusively on his four-seam fastball and changeup because his feel for his curveball and slider weren’t there. He threw just six of each offering, leaning on his four-seamer 54% of the time.
“Six innings without his best stuff or his best command,” Hyde said.
But Rodriguez still managed a quality start.
“He gutted through six innings there,” Hyde said.
That’s emblematic of his growth, proving capable to overcome inopportune circumstances. On top of that, Rodriguez faced Toronto for a third time this year — more than any other opponent. The more a lineup sees a pitcher, the more a pitcher needs to vary his approach to find results.
Rodriguez has proven capable of many things since returning from the minor leagues in July. His last start, seven innings of one-run ball against the San Diego Padres, might’ve been his best display. But if Tuesday was a poor start, the Orioles will take it. The eight hits against Rodriguez were the most he’s allowed since May 15, yet he kept Baltimore in the game throughout.
“It’s just about eating innings,” Rodriguez said. “Going down the stretch, just trying to keep the bullpen fresh, that’s really all I was trying to do — go out and get three outs each inning.”
Jordan Westburg provided the game-tying hit in the fifth that prompted Rodriguez’s final burst, driving a double down the left field line for his fifth RBI in his last four games. Earlier, Austin Hays’ two-out double in the first scored Henderson, and Jorge Mateo scored in the fifth when a throw-down to second for the back runner of a double steal resulted in an error on Jansen.
The offense dried up after that until the ninth, but without a walk-off, it was down to Baumann to hold the line. With one pitch, Belt ensured the line was broken.