TORONTO — Having hampered the Boston Red Sox’s efforts to reach the postseason by winning two of their final three home games against them this week, the Orioles opened their last series of 2021 by continuing to keep the pressure on Boston.
But Friday night at the Rogers Centre, they did so not by playing spoiler, but by doing the opposite, with the Toronto Blue Jays winning 6-4 to remain in the hunt for an American League wild-card spot. The victory allowed Toronto to keep pace with the Red Sox, who beat the Washington Nationals to remain one game ahead of the Blue Jays. The Seattle Mariners entered the day tied with Boston for the second wild-card spot and hosted the Los Angeles Angeles late Friday.
Despite finding themselves on the opposite end of the standings, the Orioles (52-108) earned a series victory against Boston this week to keep the race interesting and seemed poised to threaten the Blue Jays, seeing a slim deficit grow in the middle innings only to nearly erase it in one turn at bat in the eighth. Yet the loss ensures they will finish no better than they did in 2019, Brandon Hyde’s first and only 162-game season as their manager.
“We gave them a run,” Hyde said. “They have to bring their closer in with one out in the eighth, load the bases, the go-ahead run at first base with some really good at-bats. ... I thought we battled back. It was a really good environment tonight, and we were one hit away there from making it really interesting.”
Deploying one last bullpen game in 2021, Baltimore opened with Thomas Eshelman, who retired the first six Toronto batters before allowing a single and a home run by Danny Jansen. Conner Greene and Fernando Abad worked scoreless outings before Brooks Kriske surrendered four runs in the sixth as the Blue Jays broke the game open.
Meanwhile, Toronto left-hander Steven Matz shut down Baltimore for seven innings before Kelvin Gutiérrez continued his season-ending tear with a home run off Matz’s second pitch of the eighth. Tyler Nevin followed with a walk to chase Matz, then Pat Valaika also sent a ball over the left-field fence off Adam Cimber to cut the deficit to three runs.
When Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle reached base against Cimber to bring up the tying run, Toronto turned to closer Jordan Romano. He surrendered an RBI single to Trey Mancini and loaded the bases for Gutiérrez’s second plate appearance of the frame, but Baltimore’s third baseman grounded out to his opposite number to end the threat. Romano worked a clean ninth for the five-out save.
After spending September as one of the Orioles’ top producers with the bat, Austin Hays’ first contribution of September came with his arm.
With runners on the corners and one out in the fifth, AL Most Valuable Player candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. lofted Kriske’s first offering to Hays in right. He caught it and fired home, but the throw was initially ruled late to get Cavan Biggio at home. But when Hyde called the Orioles’ instant replay crew to get their vantage point, he was quickly persuaded to challenge the call.
“Our boys in the video room were pretty confident; they yelled at me on the phone to challenge it,” Hyde said. “So I kind of know from the tone of their voice whether they’re confident or not. If it’s kind of a, ‘Eh, you might as well go ahead and challenge it,’ I know we’re probably going to lose it. If it’s screaming at me immediately when I call, then I think we have a good shot.”
The call was indeed reversed, giving Hays his team-leading ninth outfield assist. He said he’s seen teams be less aggressive against his arm at the season’s gone on, but plays such as Friday’s typically require “a perfect throw,” so he expects to keep being tested on them.
“If I miss up the line even two feet right there or the ball’s two feet higher, the runner’s safe,” Hays said. “Situations like that, I think they’re going to continue to push the envelope and be aggressive and I just got to continue to make accurate, consistent throws.”
The Orioles had some fun before their final road trip of the season with all their rookies donning similar attire as they left Camden Yards one last time, the dress-up a common practice around the league. Baltimore’s managed to be unique.
A photo posted to social media late Friday showed many of the Orioles’ rookies in white T-shirts and diapers, with some of them wearing what appeared to be beaks. The theme was “Baby Birds,” said Mancini, who came up with the attire alongside pitchers John Means and Cole Sulser.
“Some people were like, ‘What the hell is this?,’ and I was like, ‘Oh God, people aren’t getting it,” Mancini said. “I was in charge of purchasing all the outfits. We were gonna get actual baby costumes, but we ordered adult diapers instead. It was questionable.”
Hyde said the players involved seemed to enjoy themselves.
“These guys showcased their bodies,” Hyde said. “I think ‘interesting’ is the right word.”
The Orioles recalled right-hander Isaac Mattson for their bullpen game and optioned Alexander Wells to Triple-A. Wells made his final start of the year Thurdsay night.
Saturday, 3:07 p.m.
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