The two players who occupied Camden Yards’ left-field grass for a lengthy first inning Friday night took similar yet diverging paths. Mike Yastrzemski, the Orioles’ 14th-rounder in the 2013 draft, dreamed of playing in Baltimore’s gem of a ballpark, but he did so Friday for the opposing team. Dwight Smith Jr., meanwhile, wasn’t a part of the Orioles’ organization until two weeks before Yastrzemski was gone, a former first-round pick by the Blue Jays designated for assignment and traded.
The Orioles’ 9-6 victory over the San Francisco Giants saw Baltimore overcome its largest deficit of the year with plenty of firsts for both players, who carry with them a familial baseball lineage. Yastrzemski is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl, but he had to grind his way through 703 minor league games, all in Baltimore’s system but the 40 he played this season, before getting the chance to play in the majors this week. Smith, whose father enjoyed a productive career in the 1990s, performed well in stints with Toronto. Neither was ever afforded the opportunity they have gotten with their current franchises.
The Orioles, with too many Triple-A outfielders and not enough playing time to share among them, traded Yastrzemski for minor league right-hander Tyler Herb in late March. After hitting 12 home runs with Triple-A Sacramento, Yastrzemski finally got his call-up, fittingly coming six days before the Giants’ first visit to Baltimore in 15 years.
"I definitely kind of looked around,” Yastrzemski said of his long-awaited first game at Camden Yards. “I did a little more looking around before the game. Taking that in. Letting it sink in.”
He did not wait long to make an impact in his debut in the ballpark he spent six minor-league seasons envisioning as his future home. After Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner began the night with a walk to Joe Panik, Yastrzemski tripled into the right-field corner for an RBI and scored on Buster Posey’s single. The Giants forced Cashner to make 46 pitches in a five-run first, leaving Yastrzemski on deck.
San Francisco left-hander Drew Pomeranz nearly matched Cashner in first-inning pitch count, throwing 44. On the 39th, with the Orioles having already struck for two runs, Smith hit his first career grand slam to put Baltimore ahead 6-5. The shot ended an 0-for-13 skid that pushed Smith into the lower third of manager Brandon Hyde’s lineup for the first time, a move Hyde said was in an effort to give Smith a breather. The Camden Yards video board showed his father celebrating in the stands.
“I feel like every time he’s around, I do something,” Smith said. “I have to do something for my family whenever they’re in town. He’s a good luck charm.
“He was acting like he was at a football game tonight. It was pretty funny to watch on the big screen.”
After both teams scored at least five first-inning runs for the first time in Orioles history, Yastrzemski drove in another, hitting his first home run on Cashner’s first pitch of the second. He joined Dwight Evans as the only players with a homer and triple against the Orioles within their first six games in the majors.
“Deep down, I always wanted to come here and hit one,” Yastrzemski said. “Always. And now it's a reality, and that's pretty special.”
Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini shared Baltimore’s 2013 draft class with Yastrzemski, and the two rose through the minor league system imagining playing at Camden Yards together. Friday, they did so, with both homering. Mancini’s two-run home run in the bottom of the second gave the Orioles a lead they didn’t relinquish, ended Pomeranz’s outing and sailed far over the head of his friend standing in left field. With the game ending in an Orioles victory, one Hyde said was among their best “from a character standpoint,” Mancini could savor getting to witness Yastrzemski’s big day.
“It was awesome,” Mancini said. “I’m not even gonna lie. I’m playing against him, so I’d obviously rather he not do it against us, but it was really cool to be there for his first home run.”
Renato Núñez provided the final margin with a projected 444-foot home run in the seventh, his seventh home run in his past 11 games.
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For the eighth time in his 12 starts, Cashner received at least six runs of support.
Despite a 5.74 ERA in those starts, he improved to 5-0 in such outings. He did enough to make those runs hold up Friday, with Yastrzemski’s home run being the only run he allowed in his final four innings of work. He battled to complete five innings on a season-high 109 pitches after Hyde had Dan Straily warming up in the top of the first.
“He was one hitter away from being out of the game,” Hyde said. “Just a real gutty performance.”
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The bullpen was solid behind Cashner. After 1 1/3 innings from Paul Fry, Mychal Givens recovered from a stretch of rough outings by retiring the three batters he faced with two strikeouts. Richard Bleier pitched the final 1 2/3 innings.