NEW YORK — There’s no one else the Orioles would have wanted in that situation. And there was no better count for right-hander Félix Bautista to find himself in against one of the sport’s most dangerous power hitters.
This is always the risk, though, when facing New York at Yankee Stadium — holding a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, when one swing from a transcendent talent can change an entire game. That’s what Aaron Judge makes possible on a nightly basis, and this time it was Baltimore and Bautista who suffered because of Judge’s one swing.
When Judge jumped all over a hanging splitter, he pushed the Orioles to their third extra-inning game in a row during a critical stretch against American League East opposition. And by not scoring in the top half of the 10th, Baltimore fumbled a lead against a club that is behind in the standings — rather than ahead, as is usually the case.
New York captured the 6-5 victory in the 10th inning Tuesday as much because of Judge’s blast as Anthony Volpe’s sacrifice fly off right-hander Bryan Baker. The Yankees managed it because the Orioles narrowly avoided adding on, when Cedric Mullins’ bases-loaded fly ball was caught at the track instead of exiting the yard for a grand slam several innings earlier.
“We play so many close games, we’re bound to lose one once in a while that’s tight like that,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I thought we played a really good game of baseball. We got to Gerrit Cole. I thought our at-bats early in the game especially were really good. And Ced [Mullins] just missed a grand slam there that would’ve broken it open.”
Instead, the ninth-inning blast from Judge felt like the hammer blow, an edict from a player who has owned the Orioles (31-17) for years — a statement that he wasn’t yet ready to see these upstart Orioles surge too far ahead in the American League East, although there are still nine games to play between these teams.
After all, Bautista was ahead in the count 0-2. He had just blown two 100-mph fastballs past Judge. It seemed natural that the next pitch would be Bautista’s put-away pitch, the splitter, even though Judge had been late with a foul tip of the previous fastball.
Bautista issued his splitter, but instead of dropping it low and away, or completely outside the zone, Bautista left it middle-middle.
For a hitter of Judge’s prowess, there was no missing it.
It sailed off Judge’s bat to force extra innings and leave the Orioles bemoaning one poor pitch.
“I’m not going to second-guess Bautista’s pitch,” Hyde said. “I mean, his split is one of the hardest pitches to hit. He’s scuffling a little with it right now. He just hung it.”
“Unfortunately, that pitch that I threw that he hit out of the ballpark, I didn’t execute it well,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “But, you know, can’t control that.”
Other than that pitch, the plan almost worked for Hyde. Right-handers Mychal Givens and Yennier Cano covered scoreless sixth, seventh and eighth innings, and Cano showed the flair and ability that has made him one of the most electric relievers in baseball this season.
Twice Cano found himself with a runner in scoring position against him in a one-run game. And yet, as he recorded six critical outs, Cano never rattled.
He stared, posing in his trademark way — a stance Orioles fans have embraced after little more than a month of otherworldly dominance on the mound. All of this could be so daunting for a relatively inexperienced major leaguer. It’s so different, this metropolis of a city, and this stadium is so different from the rural Cuban fields he played on during his youth.
But when Cano is on the mound, it’s the home batters who appear rattled, if anyone. That’s why in the seventh, with runners on the corner in a one-run game, DJ LeMahieu laid down a poor bunt. It went right to Cano, who shuffled it to catcher Adley Rutschman for the out — inspiring a straddling pose near home plate.
An inning later, Jake Bauers’ two-out double put the pressure on Cano again — until he stood, straddling the mound, staring after Oswaldo Cabrera struck out against him to end the frame. But an inning later, Bautista cracked, and the rest of the bullpen found itself in the unforgiving environment of extra innings.
It’s perhaps more gutting because Baltimore’s offense got to Cole, a five-time All-Star, early in the game. Part of that production was from infielder Gunnar Henderson, who hit a home run off a change-up for the first time in his major league career.
“We had a bunch of great swings,” Hyde said. “We lined out to the outfielders a few times. Just really happy with our offensive approach against a really good starter.”
For just the second time this season, after Henderson’s infield single in the sixth, his batting average leaped over the Mendoza Line. But if this is Henderson struggling, it’s a positive sign. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage is still above .700, a good benchmark for production, although Henderson’s strikeout numbers are still high.
The homer from Henderson was part of an early barrage against Cole, who allowed more than two runs for just the second time in 11 starts this season. Mullins took him deep once. Adam Frazier drove in two runs in the first inning with a double that just escaped Judge’s reach in right field. And in the sixth, Baltimore jumped ahead again via Terrin Vavra’s bases-loaded groundout.
The Orioles needed that run support to cover for the fifth-inning spiral right-hander Kyle Bradish experienced. He gave up a solo shot to Harrison Bader in the fourth, then allowed three runs in quick succession in the fifth to require the bullpen to handle the remainder of the outing.
“That’s a tough team to not have your best stuff against,” Bradish said. “I kept them at bay for four innings, and they got to me in the fifth.”
It appeared as though Baltimore might be able to hang on as Cano danced out of danger twice. But then that one pitch to Judge from Bautista led to a blast, and with it, the Orioles watched a lead slip away into a loss.