MINNEAPOLIS — It was as though one loose strand came free and the whole tapestry of Sonny Gray’s season threatened to come undone.
The Minnesota Twins right-hander, headed for his third career All-Star Game and first since 2019, has found a resurgence this year. Entering Saturday’s game against the Orioles, Gray hadn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his 17 starts. With a 2.50 ERA entering his final start of the first half, Gray is well on his way to the best season of his lengthy career.
And then that thread caught and out tumbled six runs for Baltimore in one fell swoop. Three straight singles, then two consecutive walks and another two singles put five runs on the board before Gray recorded an out in the second inning.
But, just as quickly, Gray recovered to pitch a strong outing — if the six runs that crossed against him in the second can be overlooked. They can’t be, though, not when those six runs are all Baltimore needed with right-hander Tyler Wells on the mound to secure a 6-2 win and a series victory at Target Field.
The Orioles (53-35) needed that breakthrough inning against a pitcher who had carved through their lineup just last week at Camden Yards. Gray threw six shutout innings in a win against Baltimore, and while Orioles hitters batted 6-for-8 against him in the second inning alone, he rebounded to shut down the lineup otherwise.
Gray avoided an early exit and still managed to provide six innings. Apart from the second inning, the Orioles were 0-for-15 against him with one walk (and they didn’t manage a knock against any relievers, either, leaving them no-hit for eight of the nine innings).
“They like to make it tough on me,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “What a great rally off Sonny Gray, who we had such a tough time against.”
Gray’s dominance vanished only momentarily in the second — and when it did, the Orioles pounced.
It began with singles from Ryan O’Hearn, Austin Hays and Aaron Hicks in quick succession, then Colton Cowser and Ramón Urías drew bases-loaded walks.
After those free passes, Adam Frazier swung at the first pitch he saw and he was bailed out when his half-swing blooped a two-run single with a 64.3 mph exit velocity over the third baseman’s head. Gunnar Henderson singled in another run before Adley Rutschman’s strikeout marked the first out of the frame. And Anthony Santander plated the sixth and final run, the last gash against Gray’s otherwise stout outing.
“We found a couple holes. It’s not like we slammed him around the yard or anything,” Frazier said. “This time, we found a couple holes and made him make pitches and got a couple walks. I think those turned into strikeouts last week, so that was the difference.”
The overload of runs marked Baltimore’s third five-run inning since Thursday, and it propelled the club to its fourth straight win.
Wells had more than enough breathing room from then on, and he used it to evade the one hiccup that has confronted him throughout an otherwise standout first half. Wells finished his six innings with two runs against him on six hits — although he didn’t allow a home run for the first time since June 9.
“That’s really been his only snag this whole first half, is that solo homer or two a game,” Hyde said pregame. “He’s been so good besides that.”
After the game, Wells noted how he walked two batters and allowed some base hits, forcing him to grind through a few innings. But “I’m going to take the bright side out of this one,” he said. “I didn’t give up a home run, so that was pretty solid.”
Instead, a wild pitch in the first and a sixth-inning double from Donovan Solano brought in the only runs against Wells. He enters the All-Star break with a 0.93 WHIP and has finished at least five innings in each of his 18 appearances.
On Tuesday, there will be four Orioles players making their All-Star Game debuts: right-handers Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista, outfielder Hays and catcher Rutschman. Wells, with his 3.18 ERA, might have deserved a place alongside them.
“Someone once told me, to be an All-Star you only have to play good for the first half,” Wells said. “To be a champion, you have to play good the whole year. That’s kind of my outlook right now. I’m wanting to win a championship.”
Wells hasn’t needed much run support of late, having allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last eight starts. Over the course of this first half, Wells has been the most consistent starter for that reason. And, with a six-run inning to vault the Orioles ahead early, Wells helped Baltimore cruise to its first series win in the last four attempts.
That consistency first showed itself last season, even with a stricter pitch count as he worked back from injury. It’s even more apparent now that the reins are off Wells and he can pitch unencumbered, particularly when the Orioles have a six-run inning to support his outing.
“It’s a testament to what I’m trying to accomplish this year,” Wells said. “I’m trying to be dependable, I’m trying to establish myself, and I’m trying to make sure each and every time I take that ball I give my team a chance to win.”