Washington — For every bit of the 5.3 seconds Anthony Santander’s go-ahead home run hung in the cool Washington air Saturday night, Nationals Park was silent. The outburst that rung out from the Orioles dugout when it hit the left-field seats was startling by comparison.
So, too, was the Orioles’ breakout eighth inning itself.
An offense that a night before couldn’t be stopped looked hopeless Saturday until back-to-back pinch-hit home runs by Pat Valaika and Pedro Severino to begin the eighth inning, with Santander’s blast the difference in a 5-3 win over the Washington Nationals that put the Orioles (7-7) in position for another improbable weekend sweep against a World Series hopeful.
“We fight all the way through,” Santander said. “That was outstanding. We were fighting until the end.”
Said starter Thomas Eshelman: “This season, I think that we have a mentality of, ‘We know we can.’”
The pinch-hit home runs by Valaika and Severino, both right-handed bats brought off the bench to face left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle, were the Orioles’ first consecutive pinch-hit home runs since Aug. 12, 1985.
They were much-needed as well. Starter Austin Voth and the front end of the Nationals bullpen had allowed just three base runners until that eighth inning.
“He made it very, very tough for us offensively,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Our pitchers did a great job of keeping us in the game and allowing us an opportunity to come back.”
Doolittle survived one batter past those home runs by striking out Chris Davis, but Austin Hays battled Daniel Hudson for an 11-pitch walk and Hanser Alberto hit a line drive off of Trea Turner’s glove for a single before Santander’s third home run of the season.
Cole Sulser stranded two Nationals in scoring position in the eighth inning and Miguel Castro earned his first save of the year with a scoreless ninth.
Hays a spark
Hays’ September call-up last year set the stage for him to grind out at-bats and make spectacular plays in center field. It’s been a tough start for him this year, but he did both Saturday.
The rookie center fielder made a diving catch in left-center field in the second inning that limited the damage for Eshelman, a snag that was rated as his second four-star catch of the year by MLB’s Statcast data.
His at-bat in the eighth inning wasn’t as loud as the home runs, but was certainly longer — and still meaningful.
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“Fantastic at-bat,” Hyde said. “A grinder-like at-bat, and that’s what we love to see. Austin Hays doesn’t walk much, but that was a big walk and a big take on a 3-2 close pitch, but he earned that because he did a great job of fouling off pitches and staying in the at-bat off a World Series closer. That was a huge spark for us.”
The Orioles’ offense didn’t accomplish much early, making any gripes moot, but they did have a couple of gripes. Rio Ruiz had their first hit of the game with a single in the second, but was erased on a strikeout/caught stealing double play when replay review ruled that he came off the bag slightly after beating the throw to the base.
In the sixth inning, Hyde argued that leadoff man Starlin Castro was out of the baseline when he was on the infield grass running out a swinging bunt that Tanner Scott threw past Chris Davis at first base, but to no avail.
Earning trust by the day
Save for the newcomer Sulser, every Orioles pitcher manager Brandon Hyde called on Saturday is trying to prove himself trustworthy in a way he couldn’t in extended chances in 2020. Everyone came through.
Eshelman pitched four solid innings, allowing two runs, before Evan Phillips, Scott, and Shawn Armstrong each kept the game close for the eighth-inning comeback. The only blemish was a two-out single off Armstrong that scored Scott’s run.
Castro recorded his first save in 44 appearances.
“I thought Tom did a really nice job,” Hyde said. “He gave us four innings, only the solo shot to Soto and another run, but kept us right there at two. I’m sure Armstrong would like to have that cutter back, the 0-2 cutter back to Thames, which was a mistake. But besides that pitch, everybody else, they did a great job.”