It was a fitting image: Cedric Mullins solo on the field at Camden Yards, receiving applause from fans and teammates alike. Just as he now does in team history, the Orioles’ center fielder stood alone.
At the suggestion of Baltimore coach Fredi González, Mullins’ teammates waited in the dugout for the top of the third inning of Friday night’s 8-5 loss to the Texas Rangers, allowing Mullins to trot out on the field himself and receive another ovation after his go-ahead home run made him the first player in Orioles history with a 30-30 season.
“It’s crazy,” Mullins said. “I don’t even know if I’ve truly processed it yet, to be named the first Orioles to ever have a 30-30 season with the crazy amount of history that this team has, this organization has. To be able to claim that, to be the first one to do it, it’s awesome.”
Mullins has made his mark in center field at Camden Yards throughout this season. Fittingly, that’s where he drove his historic home run Friday night. The three-run blast off Rangers starter Spencer Howard was Mullins’ 30th of the year, making him the first player in Orioles history with 30 home runs and 30 steals in the same year. Like many of Mullins’ feats this year, his historic benchmark came in a defeat, with the Orioles falling after Texas scored five times in the ninth following rookie closer Tyler Wells’ exit with right shoulder discomfort.
Mullins reached 30 steals with two in one game last week in Boston but had gone nearly two weeks since his 29th home run, admitting Friday that the proximity of the achievement had gotten in his head. In the bottom of the second inning Friday, he hit a drive narrowly beyond center fielder Leody Taveras’ leaping effort to give the Orioles a 4-2 lead, sending the ballpark and the Orioles’ dugout into a frenzy.
“We didn’t know if the center fielder caught it or not, which made it more of a hold-your-breath moment,” starting pitcher Alexander Wells said. “When we saw he didn’t catch it, we just went wild.
“His whole game right now is just incredible.”
During the Orioles’ previous homestand, a similar leaping effort at the wall from Mullins was successful, a robbery of New York Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez eventually recognized as MLB’s Play of the Week. In each facet of the game, Mullins has been one of the majors’ best players, putting him in the exceptionally rare position of being a Most Valuable Player candidate on a team that has struggled as much as the Orioles (49-105) have.
“It’s cool to watch somebody be so consistent and so good for so long,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s such a hard game at the major league level, playing in this division with the pitching we face, and for him to have a .900 OPS, whatever it is, and power, speed, take great at-bats, the bunt tool, everything. To watch it night in night out, he is so professional, and he’s just really come into his own this year in so many ways, matured in so many ways.”
Chants of “Cedric! Cedric!” broke out in Oriole Park’s announced crowd of 7,935 after the home run, prompting a curtain call. His teammates, as they have all year, celebrated his success, too.
“Teammates love him,” Hyde said, “and they also know the journey that he’s gone through and adversity.”
Mullins was anointed as longtime Oriole Adam Jones’ successor in center field late in 2018 and opened the next season as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter. But he struggled mightily to open 2019, and his troubles continued with Triple-A Norfolk before he ended the year with Double-A Bowie. Expanded rosters in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic allowed Mullins to make the Orioles’ 2020 Opening Day roster, but he soon found himself back in Bowie at the team’s alternate training site.
Upon his return, he was a far more productive player, carrying his first taste of major league success into an offseason in which he made the uncommon decision to abandon switch-hitting and bat exclusively left-handed.
It immediately paid dividends, with Mullins earning his first All-Star selection, starting as the American League’s center fielder in Colorado. His home run Friday made him the first player at that position with a 30-30 season since Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout in 2012, and Mullins and San Diego Padres phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. are the only players in the majors with 25 homers and 25 steals each this year. Only two Orioles had previously reached those marks: Don Baylor in 1975 and Reggie Jackson in 1976.
“You’re talking about the great players that have gone through here and are gonna come through here, and you’re the only one,” González said recently as Mullins approached the historic benchmarks for 30-30. “You talk about Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, on and on and on and on, Eddie Murray, great players, Hall of Fame players, and you’re the only one. That’s special. That’s a special place in history that nobody can ever take away from him.”
The speed has long been part of his game, but Mullins’ 30-homer power outburst out of his 5-foot-8 frame also leaves him in impressive company: Jimmy Rollins is the only shorter player to manage a 30-30 season.
Friday’s home run erased a deficit created on Nathaniel Lowe’s two-run home run off Alexander Wells in the first inning. Three singles from Baltimore’s first five batters of the second got the Orioles on the board and turned the lineup over, bringing up Mullins. His ball clearing the fence proved a rarity Friday, with Taveras successfully robbing Pedro Severino in the third before left fielder DJ Peters also stole a home run from Pat Valaika in the fourth.
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Texas’ third outfielder, Adolis García, made his impact offensively with a go-ahead double off Conner Greene in the ninth. Greene entered after Wells winced on the same pitch Peters tripled on to open the inning, then allowed a sacrifice fly, two infield singles and a walk. García doubled into left field to give the Rangers their first lead since Mullins’ homer, eventually coming home on a double steal.
But even with the robberies and steals, the Rangers couldn’t take away the magic of Mullins’ season.
“Just that experience, the trip around the bases, the curtain call immediately after going out on the field, the guys letting me have that moment to just kind of take a breather on the situation,” Mullins said. “I’m proud of this moment and it’s just awesome and surreal.”
Around the horn
- The Orioles placed left-handed starter Keegan Akin on the 10-day injured list with a left adductor strain, a core injury that manager Brandon Hyde said will require surgery. They also recalled Krehbiel and selected catcher Nick Ciuffo’s contract.
- Right-hander Mike Baumann, the club’s No. 9 prospect who was optioned to Triple-A after Thursday’s game, will be shut down for the season after reaching his innings limit.
- The Orioles plan to start right-hander Chris Ellis on Saturday. He missed his previous start with arm fatigue.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
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