BALTIMOE — Buck Showalter did his best to savor the moment after he took the ball from his starting pitcher in the eighth inning.
The Orioles manager certainly recognized the scene. He sent 25-year-old Mike Wright to the mound Sunday for his major-league debut, sent him out to face Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and the rest of the Los Angeles Angels.
Sent him out there to try and hold down a potentially dangerous lineup in hopes that Wright could keep his team in the game. And maybe, just maybe, the Orioles could snap out of their offensive funk and start making something out of an otherwise middling May.
Wright did his part by tossing 7 1-3 scoreless innings with no walks and six strikeouts. So when Showalter came for him in the eighth, after Wright gave up a one-out single in a 1-0 game, it was time.
Time to go get his rookie right-hander after 90 pitches. Time to let Wright come down from the hill and head for the dugout while 41,733 fans at Camden Yards, mostly in orange, stood and cheered his performance.
The time, and perhaps the timing, couldn't have been better.
Wright said all the right things after the game, about soaking in the ovation he got from the crowd and wanting to hug his family and friends who came out to support him. Maybe it will be some time before the 6-foot-6 fireballer really understands the importance of his outing.
(No doubt he'll be telling his kids, and maybe their kids, that his first major-league strikeout came against Trout on a 97-mph fastball.)
The Orioles are hoping it means a whole lot more than just a win in Wright's first big-league outing.
They're in desperate need of quality starting pitching, and until the weekend they hadn't gotten enough of it to stay in the AL East mix. Even with Ubaldo Jimenez's seven strong innings Saturday night, the Birds lost for the eighth time in 11 games and fell to 0-12 when they score less than four runs.
No more oh-fers there, at least.
Adam Jones gave Wright and his fellow pitchers some insurance runs Sunday with a two-run double in the eighth, and Zach Britton posted his eighth save despite having to face the potential tying run in the ninth (he struck out Johnny Giavotella with runners on first and second to end the game).
"Three runs is a breakout in the last three days," said Jones, who is part of a lineup that is averaging 2.9 runs per game in May. "We haven't been scoring too many runs. You're going to grind it out. It's a long season. We're going to play our tails off, no matter what."
Orioles fans know what they're getting out of the ballclub's relievers. It's some of the starter's woes that have them scratching their heads.
Chris Tillman and Bud Norris in particular – Norris' ERA is just south of 10.00, and he's 1-4 and dealing with an illness to boot right now; Tillman, the team's ace on paper, is 2-5 with a 6.34 ERA and missed a start Sunday with back ailments.
Enter Mr. Wright, or so the Orioles hope.
"It was big. I was happy for him," Jones said. "He went out there and threw strikes. That's the thing that he has. I told after the game, 'Trust your stuff."
Predicting Wright's future with the Orioles is anyone's guess.
Could he one day become a staple in the rotation with the likes of fellow youngsters Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey? Sure. But Gausman remains in the bullpen, Bundy hasn't been sharp in Double-A Bowie, and Harvey is off seeing Dr. James Andrews (gulp) to check on a sore right elbow.
Creating dream rotations may be a little ways off. But why worry about that when the future seems to be right now?
If Wright can give the Orioles even a little of what he gave them Sunday, it might be the boost they're looking for to eclipse .500 and climb back into contention.
It's mid-May, lots of baseball left. But until the offense gets its act together, and Tillman and Norris revert to their prior forms, the Orioles need Wright to be stuck at his Sunday best.