Whenever things manage to go well for these Orioles — and an 8-4 win over the Chicago White Sox to avoid a series sweep that would have tied them for the club record with 107 losses on a sun-splashed afternoon at Camden Yards wholly qualifies — it seems two players are at the heart of it: Cedric Mullins and Jonathan Villar.
The former was promoted in mid-August to take over in center field down the stretch, and had his first career four-hit day atop the lineup Sunday. Villar, a middle infielder who has played mostly second base for the Orioles since being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers on July 31, had three hits, including a Eutaw Street home run, to help the team to its second win this homestand and put off the record-tying loss for at least one day.
“Those guys are kick-starters,” starter David Hess said. “You look at the way they play, they play hard. They bring the speed element to the table, and both of them are similar in the fact that they get on base, but they can also drive the ball in the gaps and over the fence. Having guys like that on the top of the order and on defense for you, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.”
Mullins believes the Orioles (43-106) can duplicate days like this at Camden Yards and elsewhere with the elements he and Villar bring.
“We both have aggressive styles,” Mullins said. “He’s kind of guiding me in terms of continuing to learn, trying to steal bases and bunting the ball in general. There’s a lot I can learn from him, and to be able to have that dynamic at the top of the order, I feel like it’ll be huge.”
Manager Buck Showalter said the idea that those two make things tick for the Orioles on the rare occasion that they do probably holds merit.
“I can’t say that I’m sitting there saying, ‘Boy, if these guys at the top of the order don’t do well, then we don’t have a chance.’ But you can make a case for that, I’m sure.”
It was clear early Sunday that they’d have more than a chance. Mullins opened the first inning with a double to left-center field, and scored two batters later on a single by Villar that gave the Orioles their opening marker in a five-run first.
The rookie center fielder singled and stole second base for the first time in his career in the second inning, and singled but was erased on a double play in the fourth before Villar hit a home run that one-hopped the B&O Warehouse in right field after landing on Eutaw Street.
Mullins, who ended the seventh inning with a sprawling catch in left-center field, extended the dwindling lead back to the final margin of 8-4 with a single in the eighth inning. Villar missed a chance to blow it wide open by striking out with the bases loaded in that frame. But there were no hung heads as the Orioles won the kind of Sunday slugfest that so defined the successful seasons that preceded this one.
“This is a reminder,” Showalter said. “There's been a good energy the last couple days at the ballpark and the players kind of fed off it. I think it's a great kind of reminder of what has been, what can be and hopefully will be again. You can tell the younger players feed off that a little bit.”
“It was exciting,” Mullins said. “It was a great team win, and for me to be able to contribute in a big way today with a solid defensive play and tag on a big RBI to give that separation so we didn’t need our closer to come in and finish the deal.”
Villar has eight home runs in an Orioles uniform — second most on the team during that stretch behind Trey Mancini — while batting .280 with a .785 OPS. Mullins, who had recently hit his first rough patch in the majors since his debut Aug. 10, raised his average from .252 to .276 with the big day.
“Cedric had one of those days, not that everyone's been expecting — he's already shown some glimpses of it,” Showalter said. “Some of that fearlessness. There’s a lot being thrown at him. He's had 100-plus at-bats in the big leagues.”