PHILADELPHIA — In search of something different, Jordan Westburg looked around the dugout. Ryan O’Hearn already had a bottle of water in hand, heading for Colton Cowser during his on-field post-game interview, and Westburg needed to act fast.
There. The creamer.
The Orioles infielder, who had belted his first major league home run much earlier in Monday’s 3-2 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies, poured a generous amount of creamer into a cup and made his way to Cowser. Live on air, Westburg splashed it all over his good friend, a prime example of their connection away from the field just after they had connected for a major win on it.
Cowser, thinking Westburg only splashed him with water, finished his interview with creamer dripping down his face into a beard he said later probably needs cleaning up. The smile, the one fixed to his face after his game-winning RBI-double in the ninth, doesn’t need changing.
This is the Orioles now. They have time for shenanigans as well as winning games. They have fun even as they complete a white-knuckle victory in front of a sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
Still, they do it in their own individual ways. Westburg, sticking with his general stoicism, rounded the bases after that homer as if this was no different than Dudy Noble Field at Mississippi State, or one of the many minor league stadiums he played in since the Orioles drafted him in 2020.
Westburg pointed to the sky after he rounded third base, and perhaps then — only then — did any sort of smirk cross his lips.
Almost a month into his major league career, it was unsurprising to see Westburg’s first career home run draw little outward reaction from Baltimore’s 24-year-old infield prospect. He waited on a sinker low in the strike zone and lashed it the opposite way on a line, just sneaking it over the right field fence.
“I honestly think I was more excited that he was,” Cowser said. “I’m really happy for him, and just something he’s really been working at. For him to get that one, I know he’s really excited about it.”
Westburg’s second-inning homer off left-hander Christopher Sánchez was one of two long balls for Baltimore, with a sixth-inning blast from Ryan Mountcastle that gave the Orioles steadier footing until vanished in the eighth. Westburg said he received the ball back from the fan who caught it and was headed to meet them. He’ll save that ball under glass, but while Cowser celebrated, it was more of a relief to Westburg.
“It allowed me to take a big deep breath, which is really nice,” said Westburg, because for all the goofiness he has with his fellow rookies, this is still the big leagues — still stressful. “There’s been some emotional up and downs for me. Feel like I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself with the opportunities that I’ve been getting, and it’s just hard to play that way. It’s been fun, first and foremost, though.”
Baltimore needed its crop of young players in big moments Monday. In the eighth, without the relay throw from Cowser in center field to Jorge Mateo and then James McCann, the Orioles might have fallen behind. Instead, Mateo’s throw to McCann was just in time to nab the sliding Bryce Harper, sending a tied game into the ninth.
It’s become a common observation this year: The sellout atmosphere for a Monday night at Citizens Bank Park felt as though it was a postseason crowd. The roar began when Nick Castellanos’ single landed, grew louder when Kyle Schwarber crossed the plate and reached a fever pitch as Harper rounded third. It turned to displeasure when Harper was out.
The observation is correct, however, and it will remain so from now until the postseason actually begins. Now that the Orioles hold the best record in the American League, each series will be circled by their opponents. Each set of fans will suddenly see the Orioles — the punching bag just two seasons past — as a team to beat.
There will also be ample traveling fans, those emboldened to now wear Orioles gear outside of Baltimore (or outside the house, even). And when Henderson crossed home and Cowser wheeled into second, they made their presence felt with a “Let’s Go O’s” chant at Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s really loud here,” right-hander Dean Kremer said. “PitchCom was kind of hard to hear here. But had a lot of fun, definitely.”
Cowser has searched for the success he became accustomed to with Triple-A Norfolk in his 15 games with the Orioles, but his ninth-inning double — which sneaked out of the reach of the diving Schwarber — meant Baltimore didn’t waste a 10th quality start from Kremer this season.
“Dean Kremer is what did it,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
The Orioles hurler matched his season high in innings pitched and gave up just one run on three hits, rebounding from an unsteady outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers last week that included four walks and five runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Kremer found more success with his cutter Monday than he has in just about any other outing this year. Entering Monday, Kremer’s cutter held a negative-8 run value according to Statcast, which is tied for the second-worst mark in baseball. But Kremer threw it 28% of the time against the Phillies and the highest exit velocity against the offering was a paltry 78.4 mph.
“If it’s on,” Kremer said, “then I’m probably going to have a better night than usual.”
Kremer retired 12 of the first 15 batters he faced and put away the last eight batters he saw, and the Phillies only scratched the one run across in the fifth inning, when Kyle Schwarber drove in Garrett Stubbs with a sacrifice fly.
Mountcastle’s homer — his first since May 24, long before the first baseman missed a month on the injured list for vertigo — immediately handed the Orioles a lead to work with again. And Kremer handed over a close lead to left-hander Danny Coulombe in the eighth.
After right-hander Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista worked a heavy load against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles were without their top back-end arms. Coulombe benefited from a much-needed lineout-turned-double play, but when right-hander Bryan Baker entered with two inherited runners, the lead soon vanished.
Then, an inning later, after Cowser gave Baltimore the lead right back, Pérez had to grind through the ninth to earn a save. That allowed for Westburg to search for creamer, a celebration in the open after another nail-biting win.