Often last year, throughout Brandon Hyde’s first season as the Orioles manager, there wasn’t much public talk of in-game strategy.
Most of his bullpen moves didn’t pan out, which became a difficult point to judge him by as his inexperienced relievers’ repeated troubles became almost expected. The Orioles were regularly behind enough that a decision to bunt or steal didn’t come up too much, either.
But after the Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox, 5-4, in 10 innings Saturday night to end their six-game losing streak, in which Hyde’s team rallied in the eighth only to nearly implode in the 10th, he expansively discussed how he approached the game strategically, especially the decisive frame of a victory that moved Baltimore to within a game of .500 as the season’s midpoint approaches.
Getting to the end
Hyde ended veteran starter Alex Cobb’s night after only 81 pitches, but the final five balls put in play against the right-hander all left Boston’s bats at 100 mph or harder, per Statcast, leading to a 2-1 deficit.
“It was one of those days where we had to force a win out,” Cobb said afterward.
In the sixth, Hyde turned to Shawn Armstrong, who had allowed an earned run in only one of his first 10 outings. But a one-out walk came around to score after consecutive singles, and Hyde called on left-hander Tanner Scott to keep Boston’s lead to two.
In continuing his breakout season, Scott did that, stranding the runners he inherited from Armstrong in scoring position and getting out the first two batters of the seventh.
Hyde then deployed right-hander Mychal Givens, who generally struggled as the Orioles’ closer in 2019. But this year, Hyde has used Givens only as a setup man or in non-save situations in the ninth. After walking the first batter he faced, Givens retired the next four for his 10th straight scoreless appearance to open the year and get the Orioles’ bullpen through the top of the eighth.
“We chased that one a little bit, knowing that we have an off-day Monday,” Hyde said. “I felt like down two, us being the home team, I felt like we still had an opportunity with our middle [of the lineup] guys to have at least one or two at-bats left, so I kind of went for it, bringing Tanner in early, Givens one-plus in the seventh there even down, just chasing the win.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Anthony Santander tied the game with a two-run home run.
Hyde unexpectedly gave the Orioles’ first save opportunity of 2020 to right-hander Cole Sulser, a 30-year-old waiver claim with seven career appearances before this year. Sulser has continued as the Orioles’ closer with mixed results, with Hyde pointing to his tendencies to get out left-handed batters thanks to his splitter.
In a tie game in the ninth, Hyde brought in Sulser with two lefties among the three batters due up. He retired the side, striking out two.
In the bottom half, Hyde deployed his bench aggressively. After Ryan Mountcastle reached on an infield single for his first career hit, Hyde used Chance Sisco as a pinch-hitter. When Sisco walked, Hyde pinch-ran Mason Williams for Mountcastle at second while bringing in Rio Ruiz, second on the team in home runs to Santander, as a pinch-hitter. But Ruiz struck out, ending the threat.
Leaving Sulser in
Sulser took the mound again in the 10th having held left-handed batters to one hit in 23 at-bats this season. With left-handed Red Sox slugger Rafael Devers due up first and a runner automatically placed on second per this season’s extra-inning rules, Hyde liked the matchup.
Sulser struck out Devers on three fastballs.
“He’s had a lot of success against middle-of-the-order left-handed hitters this year,” Hyde said. “What he did to Devers with three elevated heaters, it’s sneaky at the top of the zone.”
Miguel Castro, who held right-handed batters to .560 OPS entering Saturday compared to .753 for Sulser, was warming as J.D. Martinez stepped in, but Hyde elected to stick with his closer, with another left-hander, Boston first baseman Mitch Moreland, due up after Martinez and Xander Bogaerts.
“If [Devers] would’ve advanced the runner to third, I was going to bring in Castro, with a better chance of a punchout or a groundball, put the infield in, but [Sulser] punched him out on three pitches,” Hyde said. “Then you have Moreland waiting there third, which I’d rather have Sulser on Moreland than Castro on Moreland.”
Sulser fell behind 3-0 to Martinez and Bogaerts, walking both to load the bases for Moreland and create the matchup Hyde wanted to avoid for Castro, who has allowed a 1.464 OPS to lefties. Sulser then walked Moreland on four pitches to give the Red Sox a one-run lead, with the bases still loaded and one out.
With 12 of Sulser’s past 14 pitches being balls, Hyde brought in Castro, who retired the next two batters, both right-handed, to leave the bases full.
“One of the heroes of the game is Miguel Castro,” Hyde said.
To bunt or not to bunt
Having been the last out of the ninth, Ruiz started the bottom of the 10th at second base with Cedric Mullins up first.
With the Orioles needing a run to tie and two to win, Hyde briefly debated whether he should have Mullins swing away, especially as Boston’s infield crowded toward home plate expecting Mullins to do exactly what he did: bunt.
“If Mullins was just an average bunter, I think that there’d be an opportunity where I probably would’ve let him hit there,” Hyde said. “But with him being an excellent bunter, and him just getting an early bounce on the ball, there’s an opportunity for him to be safe at first base, just because he’s really, really good at it.”
Hyde was comfortable with the decision to try to play for the tie once again knowing he had more options available in his bullpen, while the Red Sox had traded away two of their top relievers the day before.
Moreland fielded Mullins’ bunt and threw to third, with Ruiz beating the throw and Mullins reaching first safely to put runners on the corners for Hanser Alberto.
Despite Mullins’ speed and representation as the winning run, Hyde said he knew keeping first base occupied would lessen the odds the Red Sox would intentionally walk Santander.
But a wild pitch brought Ruiz home to tie the game and sent Mullins to second, anyway. An infield single for Alberto, only his fifth hit in his past 28 at-bats, put runners on the corners for Santander, who the Red Sox indeed decided to intentionally walk.
Two batters later, Pedro Severino lined a bases-loaded single into center to give the Orioles their first win in a week.
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“We needed to celebrate tonight,” Hyde said. “We needed to feel a win, so I was trying to give us every opportunity to.”