The wave that rolled around Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the seventh inning Saturday night had real force to it. There were no gaps in the flow like there so often has been during Orioles games in recent years, only the rise and fall of one of the best crowds in Baltimore this season enjoying what would be their club’s fifth straight win.
That wave finally broke as outfielder Cedric Mullins sent a fly ball deep enough to score the Orioles’ sixth and final run in a commanding 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of 41,086 onlookers — the second-largest crowd this season next to opening day.
Excluding opening day crowds, the one that leapt to their feet throughout Saturday afternoon was the largest at Camden Yards since Sept. 23, 2017. It came in part to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the stadium, but also because the Orioles haven’t been this enticing since those pre-rebuild days.
“That was the best crowd we’ve had since I’ve been here,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just because it felt like 41,000 Orioles fans were in the building.”
As shortstop Jorge Mateo sprawled to his left to snare a would-be run-scoring hit in the eighth — flipping it to Rougned Odor at second to start a double play — that crowd rose in unison, arms raised. Moments later, the roar resumed when left-hander Nick Vespi struck out Pirates phenom Oneil Cruz to leave a runner stranded on third.
Those moments have been more regular this year than in past seasons, with the Orioles (56-51) pushing to a season-high five games above .500 and ever-closer to a wild-card spot. But the reactions in the stands hardly ever reached the decibel levels it did so frequently Saturday.
“The support that we feel on the field when there’s that many people in the stands is awesome,” outfielder Ryan McKenna said. “They’re a big part of it.”
For as meager as the offense was in Friday’s 1-0 win, that group wasted no time Saturday putting runs on the board against right-hander JT Brubaker. It came from a myriad of sources, too.
Terrin Vavra, a rookie who can’t stop getting on base, lofted an RBI single in the first inning. Shortstop Jorge Mateo and left fielder Brett Phillips drove in runs in the second. And while right-hander Austin Voth gave up a two-run homer to Cruz in the fourth, McKenna, pinch hitting, immediately reestablished a cushion in the fifth.
With McKenna’s two-out, two-run double into the left field corner, all 10 Orioles batters registered a hit — a lineup that produced from top to bottom, including three RBIs out of the ninth spot.
“It’s always nice to have runs, but especially today, early, it kind of helps you out,” Voth said, “being able to throw strikes and not have to worry about anything else.”
That more than covered for the three runs off Voth through five innings. And despite a reshuffle after the trade of closer Jorge López to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, the bullpen held Pittsburgh scoreless without allowing a hit through the final four innings.
It all gave one of the largest crowds in years reason to stand up and shout again and again, appreciating a baseball team that has gripped Baltimore in fervor once more.
“When there’s 40,000 fans out there, and they’re showing up, it’s definitely a playoff atmosphere,” Voth said. “That fuels us as players.”
A game-saving dive
At this point, the web-gem defensive plays from Mateo are all over the internet. He’s made them so routinely — even if they’re so far from routine — that it takes a truly jaw-dropping play to shock his teammates. The diving stop he made to steal a hit from Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes was worthy of it, though.
Mateo’s range allows him to get to those balls, and Hyde said that double play Mateo began with his dive and flip to Odor “won us the game.”
Vespi entered after right-hander Joey Krehbiel hit Bryan Reynolds to lead off the inning, then Vespi walked the first batter he faced to brings Hayes to the plate as the tying run. Mateo kept the ball in the infield — the first priority, holding Reynolds at third rather than scoring. Then he went beyond by turning two. It’s a major reason why he entered Saturday with 10 defensive runs saved at shortstop, per Sports Info Solutions, the third-highest mark in baseball.
“I was super pumped,” McKenna said. “He’s been so good for us all year. It’s just really, really awesome being behind him seeing the spectacular plays he’s made.”
The next ones up
After the trade that sent López to the Twins, the backend of the Orioles’ bullpen has shuffled. Right-hander Félix Bautista and his 100-plus mph arsenal have taken over as the new closer, and left-hander Cionel Pérez is another trusted late-inning arm.
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With Hyde giving both pitchers a rest Saturday, though, the depth of the bullpen was tested — as it will be throughout the rest of the season without an All-Star to lean on. But like Friday, when right-hander Dean Kremer exited and the bullpen held onto a 1-0 win, the relievers Hyde leaned on Saturday held their own, not allowing another hit after Voth departed.
After the win, Baltimore’s bullpen ERA dropped to 3.01, the third-best mark in the majors. The Orioles have used their relievers for 433 innings, the third most in the MLB, yet their fWAR of 5.3 is the highest in the league. Doing it without Bautista and Pérez on Saturday was perhaps the most encouraging development, showing from top to bottom that the bullpen can handle high-pressure situations.
“Our bullpen’s a little different right now, and other guys are going to be pitching in big moments,” Hyde said. “They answered the bell today.”
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
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