After a celebration as raucous as Sunday’s, how much energy a team will have to play nine competitive innings the following day is a question.
It wasn’t for the playoff-bound Orioles, who are simply too good, too scrappy and too clutch to go away when they’re supposed to.
Gunnar Henderson, Ryan O’Hearn, Cedric Mullins and the rest of Baltimore’s lineup partied hard Sunday and played just as hard — OK, maybe not that hard — Monday against the Houston Astros.
Henderson twice sprinted 270 feet around the bases. O’Hearn recorded the first five-hit game of his six-year career. And Mullins, whose walk-off sacrifice fly Sunday sent the Orioles into celebration mode, did it again with a go-ahead three-run home run in the ninth inning en route to a hold-your-breath 8-7 victory.
“We’re going to play every out until the game’s over,” O’Hearn said. “Tonight was a really good example of that.”
Mullins was in position to play hero again after Baltimore’s bullpen blew a two-run lead in the sixth and allowed six runs in three innings after five solid frames from John Means in his second start back from the injured list. Down two in the ninth and facing Astros closer Ryan Pressly, O’Hearn smacked his fifth hit of the night and Austin Hays put Mullins in his favorite spot — batting with runners in scoring position.
The center fielder stayed back on a 2-1 slider and deposited it over the right field fence to give the Orioles an 8-7 lead that relievers Cionel Pérez and Yennier Cano combined to hold in the ninth to deliver the club’s 48th comeback win of the season. Cano came on with two outs and a runner on third base and needed only three pitches to strike out Chas McCormick to seal it.
The Orioles now have three wins this season when trailing after eight innings, and two have been in the past two days.
“That was incredible,” Means said of the victory. “That’s what this team’s been doing all year. It’s been picking each other up, over and over again. Cedric — Steady Ceddy — at the end of the game there. Just absolutely crushed that ball, and it was so fun.”
Baltimore is 94-56 and increases its lead over the Tampa Bay Rays as the American League’s best team to 2 1/2 games. The Orioles’ magic number to win the AL East is nine.
“I’m extremely impressed by the grit of our team, how tough they are, how we continue to battle,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “They’re celebrating right now — not as much as last night — but they’re celebrating. And they should, because that’s a heck of a win.
Means struggled to begin his start at Minute Maid Park, allowing hard contact to the defending-champion Astros.
Kyle Tucker doubled to score José Altuve in the first inning. Two innings later, Means got into trouble again but was bailed out by an outstanding running catch and throw by Mullins to nab Yordan Alvarez at the plate. After a leadoff walk in the fourth, Means retired the next six batters to end his night at 86 pitches.
Means described the outing as a “grind,” scattering four hits and three walks while striking out just one. He’s allowed four runs in 10 innings across his first two starts back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction, but he’s also tallied just two punchouts in 10 frames. His 14.3% whiff rate is almost 10 percentage points worse than his career average.
Means said his signature changeup is “doing what I want it do to,” but his breaking balls aren’t. He threw far more of them Monday than in his first start, but they combined to generate just one swing and miss.
“To only have one [off-speed] pitch and being able to do [pitch well], I’m happy with that,” Means said. “Obviously I want to go deeper in games and save the bullpen, and I think getting the breaking ball will help with that.”
Means was in line for his first win since September 2021 thanks to a two-run single from O’Hearn in the fifth. But relievers Shintaro Fujinami and Jacob Webb combined to allow four runs in the sixth to blow a 3-1 lead.
Fujinami, the volatile right-hander they acquired from the Oakland Athletics, displayed his bad side Monday, allowing RBI singles to McCormick and Jeremy Peña. Webb then surrendered a go-ahead two-run double to Altuve to give Houston (84-67) a two-run advantage.
Adley Rutschman, who hit a sacrifice fly to score Henderson (3-for-5, triple, three runs) in the first, drove in his fellow 2019 draft classmate again in the seventh with a double to cut the Orioles’ deficit in half. Mullins then doubled home Rutschman to tie the game.
In 113 plate appearances with runners in scoring position this season, Mullins is hitting .340 with a .681 slugging percentage. He has a career-high 73 RBIs in just 104 games.
“I can’t say enough about what he does on both sides,” O’Hearn said. “Ceddy’s an incredible player, a huge part of us having success.”
The bullpen put the offense in comeback mode again, though, when left-hander Danny Coulombe, one of the Orioles’ most reliable bullpen arms this season, gave up a solo homer to Abreu in the seventh. Mike Baumann then made it four straight Baltimore relievers to give up a run by allowing a solo shot to catcher Martín Maldonado.
The poor performance from a relief corps that has largely picked up the slack without closer Félix Bautista follows Sunday’s exhilarating extra-inning win in which manager Hyde used six relievers to pitch six frames.
“It’s pretty banged up,” Hyde said of his bullpen in the midst of a 17-day stretch without a day off. “I just threw everybody today, except for a couple guys that I didn’t want to pitch.”
When O’Hearn started the rally in the ninth, he went from having his first four-hit game to his first with five hits.
“Just one of those nights,” said O’Hearn, the team’s batting average leader at .309. “Seemed to have a magic wand tonight, putting together good at-bats, balls were finding holes. Yeah, it was awesome.”
Third baseman Ramón Urías’ throwing error to begin the inning gave the Astros a chance, but Jake Meyers decided to hold at third on a one-out chopping grounder to second baseman Adam Frazier.
The game then delved into chaos with two outs in the ninth inning with Hyde making several untraditional moves because of unforeseen circumstances. Aaron Hicks had a cramp (Hyde didn’t know which muscle) in the top of the ninth, forcing Hyde to put his designated hitter, Heston Kjerstad, in left field to start the inning. That decision, known as a double-switch, meant the Orioles’ pitcher was due up to hit seventh in the 10th had the Astros tied the game. With two outs, Hyde moved O’Hearn to left field and put catcher James McCann at first base so the pitcher would be the ninth batter of the following inning, not the seventh.
The moves didn’t matter, though, because Cano slammed the door for his seventh save.
“I’m still a little bit confused,” O’Hearn said with a laugh.
Around the horn
- Hyde maintained that first baseman Ryan Mountcastle is not a candidate for the injured list despite missing his fifth straight game with left shoulder discomfort. “He’s doing better,” Hyde said. “I think he’s going to be back soon.”
- Kyle Gibson will start Tuesday but the team didn’t announce the starter for Wednesday’s series finale. If they stay on turn, Kyle Bradish would take the ball.
- Mullins won the Chevrolet Electric Play of the Week with his diving catch in Thursday’s game against the Rays.
Orioles at Astros
Tuesday, 8:10 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM