To Pat Valaika, Joaquin Vega was not only “the ultimate family man,” but also one of the biggest supporters of his major league career. Tuesday marked Valaika’s first game since his father-in-law’s death. It did not mean the Orioles infielder was playing without him.
The Orioles’ torrid start to June had come without Valaika, but he helped Baltimore rally from an early deficit that became a second straight rout, this one a 10-3 victory over the National League East-leading New York Mets. As Valaika doubled twice and drove in three, he played with Vega on his mind.
“He loved watching me play more than anything,” Valaika said. “He really lived for it, so I knew coming back, all he would want me to do is to play. That’s what he told me all the time. Just go and play and play like I’m in little league and have fun. He always told me I’m living the dream, and sometimes, I take it for granted, but he was definitely with me tonight.”
Valaika didn’t play in the Orioles’ first handful of games in June, a month in which they are 5-1 and lead the sport in runs, then was placed on the bereavement list. He spent the past few days at home in California with his wife, Lauren, and their children, with other family surrounding them.
“He loved his family more than anything,” Valaika said. “I’m just gonna miss him so much. It was tough. It’s gonna be tough for a while, but I really know that he was with me tonight. That game was for him, and the rest of the season, honestly, is going to be for him.”
Tuesday represented a good start. With the Orioles (21-38) trailing 2-0 early, a single from Pedro Severino and a double from Maikel Franco to open the second meant Valaika’s first at-bat of June came with two in scoring position. He doubled to tie the game, then scored on a double from Cedric Mullins. He drove in another run with a double the next frame.
“So cool to see him deliver the way that he did in his first couple at-bats,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That was a huge hit for us, that double in that first at-bat. Kind of got the ball rolling for us a little bit offensively. Pat’s got a little bit of a heavy heart right now and to see him come through the way he did, it was cool.”
Valaika admitted he was “a little pissed” that he missed out on Baltimore’s 18-run outburst Sunday against Cleveland, but his teammates ensured he got to be part of a blowout Tuesday. Maikel Franco broke the game open in the fifth with a three-run shot that was only the sixth home run in Camden Yards history to reach the second deck in left field.
Seven Orioles recorded multiple hits, with their seven doubles and nine extra-base hits — Anthony Santander provided their 10th run with an eighth-inning homer — marking season highs.
“I thought tonight we took really good at-bats,” Hyde said. “Once again, up and down the order, a lot of production from the bottom half of the order. Just a balanced offensive attack tonight. I thought we really took a lot of deep counts, we weren’t chasing much, putting the pressure on them.”
The offensive outpouring quickly negated an early 2-0 hole after New York designated hitter Pete Alonso homered off left-hander Bruce Zimmermann in the top of the first.
After the next batter singled, Zimmermann settled in from there, retiring 13 of the final 14 batters he faced. A two-out walk in the fourth accounted for the only runner against him in that time.
Since a two-week demotion to Triple-A, Zimmermann (Loyola Blakefield) has made five appearances for Baltimore, going at least five innings while allowing two or fewer runs in four of them.
“It was more of just a breather,” Zimmermann said. “Adjusting to major league innings, major league stress levels, not getting a break through the lineups. To go down there and to reset and to really establish and what makes me me in a pitching sense and then come back up here and build on top of that, that was the goal.”
Right-handers Hunter Harvey and Tyler Wells allowed one hit and no runs between them as they covered the next three frames. Travis Lakins Sr. gave up another Alonso homer in the ninth.
Having struggled through the first couple of months of his one-year deal with Baltimore, Franco surged Tuesday night.
His mammoth homer went a projected 423 feet, leaving his bat at 110.9 mph off the bat, according to Statcast. It was the first second-deck homer at the ballpark since Alonso hit one last September and the first by an Oriole since Manny Machado in 2017.
He also made a sharp barehanded play at third base to open the second.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
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