TORONTO — Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has spent September trying to temper his estimations of his players, repeatedly comparing the month to spring training. The sample sizes are often too small to determine much legitimacy.
As much difficulty as Hyde and the Orioles’ staff will have in evaluating the September that rookie center fielder Austin Hays is putting together, his Monday night alone will be hard to ignore.
Although the Orioles lost a 15-inning marathon to the Toronto Blue Jays, Hays drove in five runs with his bat and perhaps saved three others with his arm and glove. He became the first rookie in major league history with five RBIs, a stolen base and an outfield assist in a game since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. The 24-year-old delivered his first career multihomer game while continuing to make statement after statement in center field.
Since his Sept. 7 promotion, Hays is batting .314/.364/.627, a broad leap from the .217/.238/.317 line he posted in his first taste of the majors in 2017.
“Just trying to continue to have good at-bats, competitive at-bats," Hays said. "Just play as hard as I can on defense and just try to take advantage of any opportunity I get.”
The Orioles trailed 5-0 two innings in after Randal Grichuk, Brandon Drury and Jonathan Davis homered off Chandler Shepherd, but Hays answered with a three-run home run to left in the top of the third.
Toronto got a run back in the bottom half, but the Orioles scored four times on three home runs in the fifth. Jonathan Villar opened the frame with his 24th home run, and Hays sent the next pitch out to right field to get the Orioles within one. After a walk and a fielder’s choice, Rio Ruiz’s second-half hot streak continued in the form of a two-run, opposite-field home run to give the Orioles their first lead.
The Orioles’ deficit could’ve been larger if not for more sterling defense from Hays. Hours after being crowned baseball’s playmaker of the week for his home run robbery of Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last week at Camden Yards, Hays denied Guerrero again by throwing him out as he tried to advance to second on a single to left-center in the fourth. An inning later, Hays tracked Davis’ drive to the track, pounding into the wall and losing his hat while making the catch. Neither play came with the emphatic chest pounds that followed his previous highlight, though he let out a cheer after his catch retired Davis.
“It’s incredible," said Shepherd, who spent most of the season with Hays in Triple-A Norfolk. “He’s an outstanding player. I’ve been watching him play for a while now, and it’s special. Definitely lucky I get to watch him do it every day.”
Hays said he was playing Davis to hit the ball to the opposite field, but he was able to rush over in time when Davis pulled a fastball from Evan Phillips.
“He really got into one there to the left-center side of the field,” Hays said. “I was peeking at the ball, looking at the wall and just tried to time it up. Ended up coming down with it.”
Naturally, he denied Danny Jansen of what would’ve been a game-tying hit with a diving play to end the sixth.
“Austin plays with an edge,” Hyde said before the game. “I think he plays confidently. He plays defense very confidently, and I think that you’re seeing that at the plate also.”
The Blue Jays surely had seen enough by the eighth. After Villar broke a 7-7 tie with a single behind Stevie Wilkerson’s triple, Hays fell behind 0-2, took two sliders out of the strike zone and grounded a curveball up the middle for an insurance-providing RBI single.
The Orioles failed to hold on in the ninth, one of their three lost leads. Hays struck out in all three of his extra-inning at-bats, a disappointing end to a career game. Given the time that Monday’s game ended, it won’t be long before he gets a chance to make up for it and keep Hyde thinking about his September.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
“It’s a new day tomorrow,” Hays said. "We’ve got to show up to field and continue to be positive and have each other’s backs and do as much as we can to win.”