Cedric Mullins robs Byron Buxton of home run, allowing Orioles to beat Twins in 10th

Published 7/7/2023 11:18 p.m. EDT, Updated 7/8/2023 12:29 a.m. EDT

MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton spread his arms as if to ask, why me? What on Earth, his expression seemed to say, did the Minnesota Twins designated hitter do to deserve this from Cedric Mullins?

Then he doffed his batting helmet toward the Orioles center fielder. Buxton has robbed his share of batters in his day, and he could recognize a great play when he saw one — even if it came grudgingly.

The thing is, Buxton has been here before. Last week, when the Twins visited Camden Yards, Mullins’ acrobatic catch against the wall robbed Buxton of extra bases. On Friday Mullins went a step further — or a couple of feet higher, really — by leaping at the Target Field fence and pulling back what would have been a three-run home run for Buxton in the fourth inning.

The play drew a shrug from Mullins to Buxton — they both grew up in Georgia, and Mullins said he and Buxton are good friends. The nonchalant reaction, though, didn’t live up to the import of the moment. In hindsight, the 3-1 victory for Baltimore in the 10th inning can be pinned on the play Mullins made a few hours earlier.

“I thought there was a chance it was going to stay in the yard, and luckily it did — because Ced caught it,” said left-hander Cole Irvin, whose start was saved by that catch. “If Ced doesn’t make that play, we don’t win the game and we’re not there in extras.”

To Mullins, the running play he made Sunday against Buxton at Camden Yards was more difficult. At a full sprint, he needed to worry about the looming wall and had to twist his glove to reel in the ball.

That doesn’t take anything away from the home-run robbery Friday. Mullins timed his jump at the wall perfectly and forced Buxton to slam his helmet, thwarted for a second time. Buxton’s stony face soon gave way to his hat tip and smile, though.

“I have a feeling he’s going to be looking for me as soon as I walk out of here,” Mullins said. “It’s always fun to have moments like that, just respecting each other’s game.”

Without that catch, Baltimore wouldn’t have required a two-inning performance from closer Félix Bautista. Nor would the Orioles have leaned on Ramón Urías to drive in the go-ahead run with a leadoff double in the 10th before moving to third on James McCann’s bunt and scoring on Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly.

Just last week, the Orioles faced this Twins team and the looming presence of the fireball-throwing Jhoan Durán. He closed out one win, then dropped the next game when he hit Jordan Westburg with a pitch to bring home the go-ahead run. This time, Durán was on the losing end after Minnesota tried to push him two innings.

The Orioles suffered through a minor losing streak last week that began with two losses to the Cincinnati Reds and continued with two more against the Twins. After dropping six of seven games, Baltimore broke out of the funk with two wins against the Yankees, splitting the four-game set in New York to enter this Minnesota matchup on a high note.

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Now the Orioles are winners of three straight, and while their offense didn’t produce at the heights it did in Thursday’s win against the Yankees, the pitching staff proved stout again.

“We had a tough time scoring offensively, as did they,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It was a really well-pitched game. But our back-end bullpen, [Yennier] Cano, how good was he tonight? Bautista, where would we be without Bautista? He was just amazing.”

And even earlier the Orioles received the best start from Irvin since he arrived last offseason in a trade when he allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings. Across his final three starts of the first half, Irvin has conceded just three runs in 14 1/3 innings, finding a rhythm that seemed to evade him throughout the early portions of his time with Baltimore.

Irvin produced three inauspicious starts before the Orioles’ short leash pulled him down to Triple-A Norfolk. Since returning, he’s twice featured in relief. Irvin has shown glimpses of promise throughout the rest of his starts, but Friday was his best. He controlled the strike zone, striking out four Twins batters without issuing a walk. Irvin gave up just three hits, including a double to Kyle Farmer in the seventh that became the lone run against him when right-hander Mike Baumann allowed the inherited runner to score.

Irvin did it with a four-seam fastball that averaged 93.1 mph — the fastest of his career — to go with an effective five-pitch mix.

But without Mullins’ jaw-dropping catch at the center field fence in the fourth inning, the evening could’ve been much different. After Mullins stole the three-run homer from Buxton, Irvin used a strikeout and a groundout to get out of a jam without any runs against him.

“Hate to do it to him, but that’s baseball,” said Mullins, noting how he has worked out with Buxton before in the years they’ve known each other. “I didn’t hear from him last week, so I really do feel like he’s going to come for me this time.”

Mullins plated the Orioles’ first run with a sacrifice fly against right-hander Bailey Ober to score Anthony Santander in the sixth. For as dominant as Ober was last week in his previous start against Baltimore (seven shutout innings), he allowed more traffic this time, with three walks and four hits in his six innings.

The Orioles couldn’t add on apart from Mullins’ contribution, though, and it set up another pitcher’s duel against Minnesota that was ultimately decided in extra innings — yet defined so much earlier.

“I feel like every time Buxton’s in the box, for whatever reason, I was feeding him cookies,” Irvin said. “Luckily, I wasn’t hurt by it. Ced made an incredible play again for me, and I think he’s deserving of maybe a beverage on me.”