In the city that popularized “The Process” in the NBA, the Orioles displayed Monday night the continued success of their rebuild.
Dean Kremer, acquired in the 2018 trade that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitched brilliantly. Jordan Westburg, drafted in the first round of the 2020 MLB draft, hit his first career home run. And, most pivotally, Colton Cowser — picked in the first round of the 2021 draft — hit a ninth-inning double to score 2019 second-round selection Gunnar Henderson.
The Orioles beat the Phillies, 3-2, improving to an American League-best 62-38 and moving 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
In the 2010s, the Philadelphia 76ers became known for their emphasis on rebuilding when the pro basketball team suffered through several losing seasons while they collected draft picks. They have now put together six straight playoff appearances — although they’ve yet to reach the conference finals in that span.
The Orioles similarly endured several losing seasons, but currently sit as the second-best club in all of Major League Baseball with a bright future ahead. It’s been a season full of wins like Monday’s: narrow and nerve-wracking, but all the more impressive.
An announced sellout crowd of 44,043 at Citizens Bank Park, including many Orioles fans, was loud throughout — loud enough that Kremer said he had trouble hearing his PitchCom device at times. The throng rose to its feet in the tense final minutes as the Orioles threw Bryce Harper out at the plate in the eighth inning, keeping the game tied, and then scored in the ninth to take home a series-opening win.
Kremer allowed five runs in his last outing but was exceptional Monday. He completed seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks, striking out three. He did not get the win but has now thrown seven innings in three of his past six starts.
Westburg gave the Orioles an early lead with a homer down the right field line in the second inning. The 24-year-old had hit 60 career minor league homers, but Monday marked his first in the big leagues: Prior to Monday, his most recent home run came June 23 for Triple-A Norfolk.
He waited awhile for that homer, he said.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed about doing,” Westburg said of his first month in the majors. “I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this club, I couldn’t be happier to be part of a winning club and I’m just trying to play my role right now.”
Ryan Mountcastle then became the second Oriole to break an extended homer drought. The first baseman missed a month after experiencing vertigo, but hit his first home run since May 24, blasting one over the center field fence for his 12th of the season.
Those were the only runs the Orioles mustered against Phillies starter Cristopher Sánchez, who allowed four hits in seven innings.
“We had two good swings against him and that was Westburg and Mountcastle with homers,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
After Kremer’s seven sharp innings, the reliable All-Star duo of Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista would typically take over as Baltimore held a 2-1 lead. However, after pitching four of the previous five days, the two were unavailable and Danny Coulombe instead toed the rubber in the eighth inning.
He got key outs on a double play, but left two runners on as Bryan Baker came on in relief. Nick Castellanos then hit a 3-2 pitch to center field, scoring a run that tied the game, but Baltimore’s defense limited the damage.
Cowser relayed a throw to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who threw to catcher James McCann — starting in place of a resting Adley Rutschman — to narrowly tag out Harper at home and keep the game knotted at 2.
Cowser didn’t start the game, entering in the third inning in place of Aaron Hicks, who suffered a left hamstring injury, but also had the game’s biggest hit in addition to starting its biggest defensive play. After Henderson drew a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch, Cowser’s clutch hit to left field against reliever Craig Kimbrel eluded a diving Kyle Schwarber, scoring the decisive run.
It marked the second time in the past week that Cowser has driven in a game-winning run (he hit a key sacrifice fly against Tampa Bay on Thursday). In a postgame interview, teammates doused Cowser with water.
The drama wasn’t over after the eighth, though, as the Phillies put two on base with Cionel Pérez on the mound in the ninth. But Pérez, in Bautista’s stead, got Johan Rojas to ground into a fielder’s choice, earning his first save of the season and giving the rebuilt Orioles another gritty win, their eighth in 11 games since the All-Star break.
“I feel like we’ve played quite a bit of these types of games,” Hyde said, “so our guys are used to kind of craziness in the last few innings.”
Despite struggles, Hyde ‘believes’ in Fujinami’s stuff
Shintaro Fujinami has not impressed in his two outings since the Orioles acquired the right-hander last week, allowing three runs in 1 2/3 innings and struggling with his control. But manager Brandon Hyde said before Monday’s game that, based upon his last 10 games in Oakland, he has “some of the best stuff there is in the major leagues.”
It’s unclear at this point, Hyde said, what his role will be going forward. Fujinami didn’t appear in Monday’s game against the Phillies, but Hyde said he “believes in his stuff, a lot.”
“He’s going to help us in the last two months of the year,” he said.
Orioles at Phillies
Tuesday, 6:40 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM