Few players are better in any measure right now than Orioles star center fielder Cedric Mullins.
None have been better at producing during wins, and Mullins’ four-hit game in Tuesday night’s 13-3 Orioles victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park that clinched a surprising series victory over the American League’s hottest team (48-32) by its worst (26-54) was no exception.
Mullins led the game off with a home run, hit a go-ahead double in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie and added an infield single to help extend the Orioles’ five-run eighth that broke the game open.
“I think it means he’s on base a lot and making things happen,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Unbelievable game again. Four hits, homer to lead off the game, plays great defense. He’s doing it all. When he plays well, we have a chance, and he’s playing well in wins and losses right now.”
Entering Tuesday, no player who qualifies for the batting title was better in his team’s wins than Mullins. His .451 batting average and 1.356 OPS in the Orioles’ 25 wins entering Tuesday were both best in the league. His OPS in the Orioles’ 54 losses is .691, which is just more than half what he produces when the Orioles win.
Mullins added a ninth-inning single to finish 4-for-5 with two RBIs. More so than anyone on the team offensively, the Orioles typically have a chance to win when Mullins is setting things up at the top of the lineup and getting on base.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Mullins, who has a chance to start the All-Star Game in Colorado next month. “I’m always trying to contribute in some form or fashion, win or lose. It’s a matter of just trying to stay consistent, and when we have moments, when we have the opportunity to win games, I want to be part of that.”
On Tuesday, at least late, he didn’t have to go it alone. Austin Hays, who had a three-hit night Monday, added a two-run single in the fifth inning that gave the Orioles a temporary 3-1 lead.
And in the eighth inning, just as they did in the ninth the night before, the Orioles broke things open with Anthony Santander’s first home run since June 8, a three-run double by Maikel Franco and another run-scoring single by Hays.
Santander added a ninth-inning single for his first multi-hit game since June 8 and scored when Ramón Urías hit a home run off Astros infielder Robel García. Austin Wynns hit a two-run home run off García as well, scoring Franco, who collected his third hit of the game in the ninth.
Lakins leaves with elbow injury …
The Orioles were hopeful with their short bullpen that spot starter Travis Lakins Sr. could give them something close to the four scoreless innings he pitched last time out, but the right-hander left with elbow soreness before he could get the chance. Lakins pitched a scoreless first inning before an eventful second ended his day.
Lakins issued a leadoff walk that came around to score on a wild pitch, a balk and a sacrifice fly. He loaded the bases with two outs on a walk, a hit batter and another walk before summoning the coaching and training staff from the dugout and leaving the game with them.
Hyde said the team would know more after an MRI on Wednesday morning.
Adam Plutko left the bases loaded by getting Michael Brantley to fly out to right field, then got five more outs while allowing five base runners on two hits and three walks.
… but pitching comes through with firsts
Behind Plutko, rookie left-hander Alexander Wells was efficient and mostly effective, scattering two runs on four hits with two walks and a strikeout in 2 ⅔ innings of relief in his second major league outing. Wells gave up a single in the seventh to end his day, but ascendant right-hander Dillon Tate got two outs on two pitches and got through the last two innings unscathed.
Wells, the Orioles’ No. 20 prospect according to Baseball America, earned his first major league win, while Tate was credited with his first career save, as he entered when the Orioles led 4-3 in the seventh.
“I didn’t know how we were going to finish the game, to be 100% honest,” Hyde said. “I thought we needed to squeeze at least three [innings] out of [Lakins] to start the game and when that didn’t happen, we had a bunch of guys pick us up. Alex Wells picked us up. Dillon Tate there, that was phenomenal.
“Great job by the guys that came after Lakins to get outs. We walked too many, once again, but it was nice to piece it together there.”
Icing down the controversy
Hyde tamped down speculation that anything untoward was happening in the Orioles’ bullpen Monday night after a video on social media showed reliever Tyler Wells touching reliever Hunter Harvey’s armpit with a blue rubber medical glove on his hand.
Given Major League Baseball’s crackdown on pitchers using sticky substances to improve spin rates, speculation centered on that, and ESPN reported that the league reached out to the Orioles about the video. Hyde said it was IcyHot, the pain relief gel.
“We’re under a microscope and need to be aware there’s cameras everywhere,” Hyde said. “Hunter has used Icy Hot underneath his throwing arm and his armpit for nine years now and it’s just part of his [and] a lot of pitchers, part of what they do. It wasn’t applying to the ball or anything like that.”
Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.
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