The floodgates didn’t open; not quite. But for how stifled the Orioles offense has been during an irregular losing streak, a trickle through the dam was better than nothing.
Entering the eighth inning Sunday, Baltimore had managed just one run in its previous 27 innings. The Orioles had already lost four straight games and stared down their first series sweep of the season — that is, until they scratched across two runs and felt a sigh of relief that swept through a slumping dugout and an angst-ridden Camden Yards.
It wasn’t the most seamless of rallies, but when a team needs a breakthrough it will take it take it however it comes. In this case, it required a bag of ice for Jordan Westburg’s left hand after he took a 101.3-mph heater from right-hander Jhoan Durán with the bases loaded, bringing home the long overdue go-ahead run in a 2-1 victory against the Minnesota Twins.
“Runs have been a little bit tough to come by the past couple days,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Sometimes it just starts with a swinging bunt single.”
That’s how Adley Rutschman reached against Durán to begin the eighth-inning rally, and Hyde said Anthony Santander’s nine-pitch at-bat could be the best of the season thus far. He drove a single to center to push runners to the corners.
That brought Aaron Hicks to the plate. Despite his weeklong slump, his single into center tied the game. Later, Westburg’s bruise won it to buck a losing streak and avoid a sweep.
“Anything for a win,” said Westburg, who stood at his locker with his hand wrapped. He’ll have imaging done, but he said he felt confident he won’t miss time with the injury. “My whole goal going into that at-bat was to do anything to get that run across, anything to help the team get a win, and if I had to take a hit by pitch, that’s fine.”
With that one-run advantage suddenly, closer Félix Bautista secured his 22nd save, holding a narrow edge for an offense that managed just enough Sunday.
The universal slump up and down the lineup struck this week, after the Orioles scored four runs in the first inning Wednesday in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds. From there, Rutschman’s solo homer in the sixth inning Friday served as the Orioles’ only life at the plate.
The offensive heartbeat only grew fainter from there, with a shutout loss Saturday. A further loss came in the form of outfielder Austin Hays, who departed Sunday with a left hip contusion after a second-inning collision at first base. Hyde described Hays as day to day.
Part of the slump, surely, is that Baltimore ran into the buzzsaw that is Minnesota’s starting pitching staff. Pablo López, Bailey Ober and Sonny Gray twirled masterful performances at Camden Yards.
It appeared as though it would happen again Sunday, when Durán entered in the eighth inning to face the top of the Orioles lineup. Before him, Gray pitched six shutout frames, and even though Gray loaded the bases in the fifth with a Ramón Urías double, Jorge Mateo walk and Gunnar Henderson hit by pitch, Rutschman flied out to end the threat.
This time, though, Baltimore got to Durán, manufacturing enough offense to support a pitching staff that did its job.
“This is a grinder of a win, and I think we needed that going into a four-game series in New York,” left-hander Cole Irvin said.
For so much of Irvin’s time with the Oakland Athletics, he made deep outings his forte. He considers himself an innings eater, but it hasn’t translated to Baltimore since he arrived in a trade this offseason. Before Sunday, Irvin had completed five innings just once with the Orioles.
Irvin’s leash proved tight even though he appeared to be a rotation lock out of spring training. After three lackluster starts, Baltimore optioned Irvin. He is back in the rotation and finding more of a semblance of success, but it’s fleeting — his previous two starts lasted four innings and three innings, although rain ended the latter prematurely.
He’s still falling short of the requirements for an innings eater, but Irvin finished the fifth Sunday and faced a season-high 24 batters. It was a step in the right direction, facing the Twins’ order for a third time through. He finally cracked in the fifth, with Willi Castro’s double off the center field fence giving Minnesota a one-run lead.
“Cole did his job,” Hyde said. “One run through five innings — that’s outstanding for us.”
Irvin wasn’t particularly efficient. He walked three batters, more than he had in his last 13 2/3 major league innings. And it took a few tightrope escapes to avoid runs against him earlier, such as center fielder Cedric Mullins’ acrobatic catch at the wall in the first inning. Irvin wound up stranding the bases loaded in that frame.
Still, the Twins launched nine balls with exit velocities of 99.9 mph or faster. In a sense, Baltimore was fortunate to trail by just one run once Irvin departed.
“Just understanding that an out’s an out,” Irvin said. “Doesn’t matter how sexy it is. Could be a strikeout, could be a lineout. Doesn’t matter how it is, an out’s an out, we got through five and the team was still in the game when I came out of it.”
That one run, at least lately, seemed so much larger of a gulf between the two teams. The Orioles found a way, though — even if it required a hit batter to unclog an offensive logjam.
“This is a team that’s definitely going to grind things out,” Hicks said. “And those are teams that are hard to beat.”