If there was ever a time for Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle to break out of a slump that has stretched from early July into August, it was Monday versus the Toronto Blue Jays.
There’s no other team Mountcastle has found more success against, this season or over his career. And despite a .170 batting average and a .435 OPS in his past 26 games entering Monday — a span that didn’t include a home run — the blast off Mountcastle’s bat in the third inning seemed to be almost an inevitability. The ball flew over the new left field wall for his fourth homer against Toronto this season in just five games.
When he got back to the dugout, home run chain placed around his neck, he picked up the large orange ‘O’ at the end of the gold links and examined it. He hadn’t worn it in some time.
Mountcastle’s homer was part of a revitalized offensive display for several Orioles in a 7-4 win at Camden Yards in the first game of what could be a crucial series against a fellow wild-card contender from the American League East.
“Mountcastle, he’s been grinding lately, and it’s been a tough couple of weeks,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “To see him get on one and hit it the way he did and then the big tack-on base hit there, too, that’s definitely a positive for us, is to get Mounty going.”
The Orioles (57-52) have played the Blue Jays (60-49), who hold the top of three wild-card spots, just four times entering Monday. They’ll face Toronto — a team they trail by three games — 14 more times this season.
Before the Seattle Mariners faced the New York Yankees on Monday night, the Orioles were 1 1/2 games back for a wild-card spot. Including Monday’s win, the Orioles hold a .500 or better record against each AL East team besides the Yankees.
“It’s felt that way the last couple of months, when we realized that we had our first winning month and then we did it again the next month,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “We can see where this team was, and we’re going out and expecting to win every game. I think we’ve been in this mindset now for the last couple of months, and we’re just continuing to play good baseball.”
Getting Mountcastle back on track against the Blue Jays would go a long way in continuing the good baseball. In his career, Mountcastle has a .356 average and a 1.131 OPS against Toronto. This season alone, he’s driven in nine runs against the Blue Jays. There’s no qualified batter with a better career mark against Toronto in at least 125 plate appearances than Mountcastle.
The late run Mountcastle plated with a single in the eighth inning provided some breathing room for right-hander Félix Bautista, who completed a four-out save after bailing out Dillon Tate and Joey Krehbiel, who combined to allow two runs in a shaky eighth inning that cut the Orioles lead to 6-4.
Bautista allowed the first two Blue Jays in the ninth to reach — although one was via an error — before he stuck out Teoscar Hernandez and got Bo Bichette to ground into a game-ending double play to earn his fifth save.
“Bautista steadied the ship with the big out there in the eighth, which is what he’s been doing all year,” Hyde said. “And got a little dicey there in the ninth but we turned a great double play.”
Right-hander Jordan Lyles gave up two homers — doubling the number of long balls he’s allowed at Camden Yards this season — but a three-run homer from Ramón Urías in the first and solo homers from Anthony Santander, Hays and Mountcastle were enough to propel Baltimore to its sixth win in its last seven games.
“We try to play hard every night, no matter which team is playing,” shortstop Jorge Mateo said. “I know we’re behind Toronto right now, but we come to the field to fight every day, to play every day, no matter who’s on the field. We try to compete every day and be like a family. That’s something we’ve been building around.”
No injured list needed
Before Hays returned to the lineup Monday, the Orioles outfielder had to test whether normal throwing and swinging would exacerbate the oblique tightness that forced him to miss the past four games.
“We were able to test it the last couple days,” Hays said. “It responded well.”
The oblique tightness held Hays out of five of the previous six games, but he wanted to avoid a trip to the 10-day injured list — because he wanted to get back on the field as soon as he was fully healthy.
Hays’ return was notable, as was his swing in the bottom of the sixth. He connected on a four-seam fastball from right-hander Trent Thorton and launched it an estimated 426 feet to deep left field.
Entering the game, Hays held a .542 OPS since the beginning of July, during which he’s battled nagging injuries. Like Mountcastle, Hays’ return to form was welcome.
“I think the biggest thing for us is getting Austin back today,” Lyles said. “Getting him back in the lineup, one of our key components. But yeah, love Santander, he’s been doing his thing. Ryan coming through with a really good, great game offensively. And then Ramón putting another one in the seats. We can do a lot of different things one through nine.”
Around the horn
>> Infielder Jonathan Araúz said he expects to be out another two weeks after fracturing his finger on July 25, and he figured he would return to Triple-A Norfolk for a few games on rehab. Araúz fractured his right middle finger on a slide into second base on a rare start last month and has been on the 10-day injured list since. “I hope I can swing this week, a couple throws,” he said, adding that he didn’t require surgery on the finger.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
>> Right-hander Louis Head was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Monday to give Baltimore a fresh arm out of the bullpen. Right-hander Beau Sulser was optioned after throwing 2 1/3 innings Sunday.
>> Rylan Bannon was claimed off outright waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who traded the infielder to Baltimore in 2018 as part of the trade for third baseman Manny Machado in 2018. Without Bannon, there’s an opening on the Orioles’ 40-man roster.
>> For the first time in the last two seasons, outfielder Cedric Mullins earned a start while not batting in the leadoff spot. With left-hander Yusei Kikuchi on the mound, manager Brandon Hyde put outfielder Ryan McKenna in the leadoff spot for the fifth time starting in his career, hoping to stack right-handed hitters. Mullins batted eighth and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
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