WASHINGTON — When the Orioles look across the diamond into the dugout on the first base side of the field, they might notice the similarities. They might notice the plucky group of youngsters and journeymen who make up the Nationals, and they might remember a time not so long ago when the Orioles much resembled that group.

They have rising stars, such as shortstop CJ Abrams. They have a knack for coming back from deficits, for punching above their weight. And they have a knack for not putting all of that potential together on a nightly basis. At least not yet.

The Orioles of two years ago can relate.

On Wednesday, a more put-together Orioles team felt the same pressure other clubs felt not so long ago when facing Baltimore. But the Orioles escaped with a 7-6 victory after 12 innings despite watching leads in the ninth and 11th innings slip away.

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“Very similar,” Jorge Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Thankfully, we got a lot better, we started winning games, and that’s what they’re starting to do now as well.”

Mateo’s single in the 12th scored Jordan Westburg, the automatic runner, from second, and two errors allowed Mateo to reach third on the play. Then a wild pitch plated Mateo, giving right-hander Jacob Webb a more comfortable edge to maintain.

Baltimore could have avoided the hoopla that included seven runs scored between the teams in the last two innings. The Orioles twice had a two-run lead and couldn’t hold it. They took one into the ninth inning for closer Craig Kimbrel, but his recent struggles carried over into another outing.

Kimbrel has failed to finish the ninth inning in four of his last five appearances. He couldn’t convert a save opportunity in three of those, although Baltimore recovered in extra innings to avoid a two-game sweep at the hands of Washington.

“We’re going to stick with him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I mean, this guy has a big-time track record. He’s a Hall of Famer, and we need to get him right. He’s big for us. It’s important that we get him right.”

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Kimbrel continues to climb the all-time saves list (tied for fifth). But he’s in the midst of a concerning stretch that includes six earned runs against him in his last 2 1/3 innings. The recent woes continued with Eddie Rosario’s two-out homer to draw the Nationals within one. Then Kimbrel walked the next two batters, prompting Hyde to turn to left-hander Keegan Akin to face the left-handed-hitting Abrams.

The resulting hard-hit single charged a second run to Kimbrel and forced the game to extra innings.

“I think he’s going to be fine, man,” Webb said of Kimbrel. “He’s a Hall of Famer in my book, and being around him every day and watching what he does, I think we have all the confidence in the world.”

Once in extras, right-hander Albert Suárez stranded the automatic runner in the 10th, and while Ryan Mountcastle slugged a two-run homer off close friend Hunter Harvey in the 11th, Suárez couldn’t shut the door.

The Nationals picked away again, with an RBI ground-rule double from Ildemaro Vargas and a sacrifice fly from Jacob Young leveling the game a second time. And, even with the Orioles’ two-run edge in the 12th, the Nationals threatened off Webb. Luis García Jr.’s double scored one run, but Washington couldn’t overcome a deficit for a third time.

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“I thought Suárez threw the ball well. Got kind of a back-side double there that hurt,” Hyde said. “But Webby sucked it up for us again.”

The win preserved what had been a second encouraging start from right-hander Kyle Bradish that included a resurgent all-around display from Anthony Santander.

Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander rounds third base after hitting his sixth home run of the season in the fourth inning. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Santander entered the game with an average drooping into the low .200s. But he stood and admired the second homer off his bat in a three-game span during the fourth inning that sailed 416 feet. Next, in the bottom half of the frame, Santander’s diving catch in the right-center gap prevented a run and preserved Bradish’s strong start.

That’s the Santander who has made himself a fixture in Baltimore’s plans through the lows of losing seasons to the highs of 2024. With it come heightened expectations for each of the Orioles players, and Santander would admit he hasn’t so far matched his own expectations.

But performances such as Wednesday provide a reminder, in case one is needed: Santander is an above-average right fielder and a markedly above-average hitter. The Orioles need that sort of steady presence, and perhaps his sixth long ball is a sign he’s starting to click.

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Before Santander clubbed a grand slam in the series finale against the Cincinnati Reds, he hadn’t homered in 15 games. During that span, Santander hit just .197. Then came three knocks Sunday and a loud blast Wednesday.

He wasn’t alone in backing Bradish with offensive support one night after Washington blanked the Orioles.

Gunnar Henderson clobbered his 11th homer of the season, bringing himself to a tie atop the MLB leaderboard. Colton Cowser, who also singled and doubled against left-hander Mitchell Parker, followed Westburg’s double and Mateo’s bunt with a sacrifice fly.

In Bradish’s second start since returning from offseason elbow injury, he flashed velocity and elusion, and he called the outing another “step in the right direction.” Bradish reached 98.1 mph with his sinker, the second-fastest pitch he’s thrown in his career, according to Statcast. He also used his slider and curveball well, inducing eight whiffs with the offerings.

Bradish struck out nine hitters in five innings of one-run ball. It was another encouraging step for a player who received a platelet-rich plasma injection before spring training began as a way to avoid a potential elbow surgery.

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“Stuff was there tonight,” Bradish said. “It was just a matter of being in the zone. I think I was still fighting myself mechanically but was able to sync it up when I needed to and make big pitches.”

Multiple of his strikeouts came with runners in scoring position. Bradish struck out Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker looking to strand two runners in the first inning. Then he received an assist from Santander, whose apt read and route to the ball in the right-center gap during the fourth inning helped strand another runner.

It took another three innings to ultimately close the door. But the Orioles did it against a team that could remind them of themselves.


Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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