Wearing a black-and-white Orioles jersey with “MO” stitched on the back, Sonsy Gaba stood near the Camden Yards mound, fighting back tears as the video tribute to her son played on the scoreboard. She fanned her face as the Oriole Bird wrapped an arm around her. Trey Mancini waited at home plate, understandably the recipient of Gaba’s ceremonial first pitch Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of Mo’s death.
Mo, an Orioles and Ravens superfan who spent most of his 14 ½ years battling cancer, was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame the same day he died, honored as the recipient of the Wild Bill Hagy Award. During Mancini’s time in Baltimore, he and Mo grew close. Mancini slumped through 2018′s first half, then spent the All-Star break with Mo, an experience that offered perspective about his on-field struggles. After earning Most Valuable Oriole honors the next year, he hosted the Purple Tailgate to support Mo that offseason.
When Mancini received his own diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer in March 2020, he thought about how Mo always handled his battle: with radiant positivity and a desire to make each day a win.
“I thought about Mo a lot all day,” Mancini said Wednesday. “I can’t believe it’s been a year since we lost him, just with his energy and his happiness and the happiness that he brought to others. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I miss him every day.”
After Sonsy Gaba’s underhand toss home, Mancini met her near the mound for a hug, then they posed for a photo with the Oriole Bird. They reconnected again in the third inning of Baltimore’s 8-7 walk-off win against the Miami Marlins; in an 0-2 count, Mancini homered to cut into the first of the two deficits the Orioles erased. Standing on the dugout steps with what manager Brandon Hyde said was “a huge smile on his face,” Mancini called out into the stands and waved to where Gaba and family were sitting a few rows back.
“It was so great to see Sonsy,” Mancini said. “She just said, ‘Play hard for Mo and hit one for him,’ and she told me where she was sitting, so after I did hit the home run, I wanted to wave to her there, and it was a really cool moment.
“I definitely felt him with me.”
Mancini was on second, the first recipient of two straight intentional walks, when Ryan McKenna drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Orioles (35-65) a walk-off victory in a game they trailed 5-0 in the second and 7-5 in the eighth. The Orioles ripped off McKenna’s jersey in the celebration as they completed a 4-1 homestand and improved to 7-4 in the second half.
“We’ve been in the fight until the end in basically every single game,” Mancini said. “I’m so proud of the way the guys have been playing and it’s just been a different feeling, I’d say, this second half, just a different energy, and it’s been really, really fun to be a part of.”
He hopes it remains that way. As a productive player on a losing team, Mancini could be traded before Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline. That would make Wednesday’s victory his last home game as an Oriole.
“I don’t think it is my last game here,” Mancini said. “It didn’t even really cross my mind today.”
His home run was his third in 11 games since the All-Star break and team-high 19th of a season that is sure to earn him Comeback Player of the Year honors. The second-half spurt has followed Mancini’s participation in the Home Run Derby, an experience both he and Hyde said helped him from a confidence standpoint.
Mancini also saw the event as an opportunity to show viewers that there’s life after a cancer diagnosis. He wanted it to honor those who lost their lives to the disease, too. In Mo and former Notre Dame teammate Ricky Palmer, Mancini saw two friends die of cancer as he endured his own battle. He recognized them with a runner-up performance.
If Mancini is right about Wednesday’s game not being his last as an Oriole at Camden Yards, he’ll likely get the chance to homer in front of Sonsy Gaba again soon. Mo will be honored along with the Orioles’ 2021 Hall of Fame class Aug. 7.
Old friend alerts
Hits off fielders’ gloves and a Jesús Aguilar home run in right-hander Jorge López’s two innings put the Orioles in a 5-0 hole. They got out of it, only to quickly fall behind again. But against a series of relievers who were once part of the organization, they finally broke through in the late innings.
Pedro Severino’s three-run home run and Mancini’s solo shot off starter Jordan Holloway got all but one run back. With a runner on first and one out in the third, Holloway gave way to former Orioles pitcher David Hess, whose first pitch as a visitor at Camden Yards was a passed ball. Ramón Urías took advantage of the extra base with a game-tying double.
But after the Marlins scored twice in the fourth against Thomas Eshelman, the Orioles struggled to score while facing several of their former arms. Hess; Zach Pop, a prospect acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Manny Machado who joined the Marlins in a trade after being picked by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2020 Rule 5 draft; and Preston Guilmet, who pitched 10 games for the 2014 Orioles, kept Baltimore scoreless into the seventh.
But in the eighth, they finally broke through against Richard Bleier, who they traded to the Marlins early last season. After pinch-hitter McKenna walked and Urías doubled, Severino grounded to first base. After tagging the bag for an out, first baseman Lewin Díaz threw across the diamond to try to catch McKenna off third, but Brian Anderson missed the catch, allowing McKenna to score. Against an infield shifting him to pull to the left side, Maikel Franco trickled a grounder through the right side, typically where a second baseman would be, to tie the game.
“That was a little bit unusual,” Hyde said of facing several former Orioles. But he said his current bullpen, which didn’t allow a run after the fourth, “won us that game.”
Akin, Santander cleared, but not activated
Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander have been cleared by Major League Baseball to come off the COVID-19 injured list, Hyde said, but Baltimore has not yet activated them.
Neither has been able to participate in baseball activities since being put on the IL on July 21. Hyde said Akin was going to throw a side session Wednesday, while Santander would participate in batting practice and do some base running work.
“They’ve taken a week off and then ramping back up to play right away, for me, wasn’t really realistic,” Hyde said. “From a health standpoint, want to make sure that they’re moving around, they’re healthy.”
Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
TV: MASN Radio: 105.7 FM