During a season in which Baltimore has propelled toward its first postseason appearance since 2016, the swing from Cedric Mullins in the fifth inning Monday night joins a catalogue of memorable Orioles moments that grows fuller by the game.
With bases loaded, Mullins turned a one-run deficit into a lead the Orioles wouldn’t squander. He clubbed a slider left over the heart of the zone by St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Andre Pallante to deep right-center field, and as it rose, the eyes and arms of teammates and fans alike rose, too.
Mullins’ third career grand slam buried the Cardinals in an eventual 11-5 win that gives Baltimore its eighth win in its last nine games. And even as the Orioles wait for other matchups around the league to conclude before knowing their magic number for the playoffs, they control their own destiny.
“We had a bunch of big hits tonight,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “but the biggest one for me was Cedric.”
At 91-52, Baltimore is four wins away from clinching the postseason, regardless of the results anywhere else. The Orioles are in this position because of the offense that flexed its might throughout Monday’s win, chipping away at a deficit before grabbing hold of the game through Mullins’ 67th RBI of the season.
Mullins, whose season was interrupted due to two trips to the injured list, said he’s felt “on and off” at the plate since returning in August. He was definitely on Monday. With fewer than two outs and bases loaded, Mullins’ main priority was to drive home the game-tying run from third.
The grand slam accomplished that and more.
“They tend to be rally killers,” Mullins said with a laugh, “but when they put us ahead by a few runs, it’s definitely a good thing.”
Entering Monday, Mullins was hitting .214 since returning off the injured list last month. Hyde said Mullins has “been frustrated as of late, wants to contribute more,” but a knock of that magnitude — flipping a deficit into a lead — could be the kind of positive result that sets him up for a strong final surge toward October.
“It can be very frustrating,” Mullins said. “Some days you might not hit the ball hard at all and find a way to get two or three hits, and some days you barrel a few and get nothing out of it. But the consistency of success comes from hitting the ball hard, so just trying to narrow in on that focus and keep it simple.”
There were more breakthroughs later, such as Gunnar Henderson’s 422-foot solo homer — the 25th long ball of his rookie season — and Austin Hays’ two-run single in the eighth. In that fashion, Baltimore covered for right-hander Dean Kremer’s inefficiencies and ensured the club would avoid a sweep for the 86th consecutive series.
Kremer struggled with his command throughout his outing, and it immediately cost him in the first inning when he issued a pair of two-out walks that led to catcher Willson Contreras’ RBI single. Another free pass in the third joined with a double and three singles that allowed the Cardinals to plate three more runs against Baltimore.
For the second consecutive start, Kremer couldn’t complete five innings. Against the Los Angeles Angels, he didn’t allow a run in 4 2/3 innings but walked three and had an elevated pitch count.
On Monday, Kremer was pulled after 4 1/3 frames. He allowed seven hits, four walks and five runs — ending a run of eight straight starts with three runs or fewer against him. In August, Kremer seemed to be a lock for the playoff rotation, but with seven combined walks in his last nine innings, that is an area that requires improvement with the end of the regular season approaching.
“Kind of lost command there from the beginning,” Kremer said. “Kind of started to settle in as the game went on, but I don’t know, maybe just out of sync.”
But Kremer’s shaky outing was bailed out by an offense that nickeled and dimed its way back into the game — and then took control of it with one looping smash that brought four runs home and the fans to their feet.