Nearly a decade ago, the Orioles and Texas Rangers met in the American League’s first wild-card game, and Baltimore’s 3-2 victory had no impact on either’s hopes of a return to it. Both are at the bottom of their respective divisions, down to the final games in a long 2021 season.
Yet they treated the announced 10,645 fans at Oriole Park on Saturday night to a game that was tight throughout. It took until the seventh inning for either team to score, with Trey Mancini walking and hustling around to score from first on Pat Valaika’s double. Valaika soon came home on Kelvin Gutiérrez’s home run, his first with the Orioles (50-105) narrowly clearing the right-center wall.
“I was anxious to hit one,” Gutiérrez said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “Finally, I’m able to hit one and, hopefully, let’s hit some more.”
The Rangers (56-99) answered on the first pitch of the eighth when Jose Trevino took rookie Brooks Kriske deep, spoiling Baltimore’s pursuit of its third shutout in a week. Right-hander Chris Ellis, who missed his previous start with arm fatigue, pitched the first three innings in what was already scheduled to be a shorter start, but he left earlier than planned when he again experienced tightness in his pitching shoulder. He said he hopes to return quickly, but with only seven games left in the season, it’s possible he ends 2021 with a 2.49 ERA in six starts with Baltimore.
“It kind of just got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t doing myself or the team justice by pitching anymore,” Ellis said. “Honestly, I’ve had a great opportunity. As soon as I got here, [manager Brandon] Hyde let me kind of slide in the rotation, gave me an opportunity, and I felt like I did the most that I could with it.”
Marcos Diplán followed with two scoreless innings, allowing a pair of runners in each frame but no runs. Joey Krehbiel, who like Ellis joined the Orioles as a waiver claim from the Tampa Bay Rays, recorded the next five outs before Kriske — named after Orioles legend Brooks Robinson — finished the seventh.
After the home run, Kriske got the first two outs of the eighth before Hyde asked Dillon Tate for a four-out save. With closer Tyler Wells landing on the 10-day injured list Saturday and top setup man Cole Sulser unavailable after pitching the previous two days, Tate allowed a leadoff home run to Nathaniel Lowe in the ninth but managed to record the final three outs to seal the victory.
“I do like to win 7-1 once in a while,” Hyde said. “Those are always fun, as well. Maybe score some runs and not give up many. That hasn’t really been a key component to our season this year. We play a lot of tight games. [But] I’m not gonna complain about a win ever.”
Wells makes strong rookie impression
The right shoulder inflammation that caused Wells to wince on his second pitch of Friday’s outing put him on the IL on Saturday. He ends his rookie season with a 4.11 ERA, a 0.912 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 57 innings after having not pitched professionally over the previous two seasons because of Tommy John surgery and the coronavirus pandemic.
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The Orioles took Wells from the Minnesota Twins with their second selection of last year’s Rule 5 draft, meaning he had to be on the major league roster all season to remain with the organization. He was used sparingly early on but soon became one of Hyde’s top relievers. In a 25-outing span from June 2 to Sept. 8, the 26-year-old had a 1.74 ERA and struck out 36 batters against two walks. He is only the second Orioles rookie since 2010 to record at least four saves.
Wells was a starter throughout his time in the Twins’ system, and Hyde said earlier this summer a return to that role remained a consideration. He said Saturday the team will do “whatever’s best for him,” but there’s no doubt about how well he adapted to the relief role.
“You saw that he had confidence,” Hyde said. “He wasn’t afraid of the big leagues, in that he was throwing a ton of strikes and I thought you saw his stuff improve over the course of the year. He wasn’t throwing 97 in spring training or the beginning part of this year, so he got stronger as the year went on, and the confidence continued to build when he recognized that his stuff plays here and so just great improvement over the course of the season, a great development story for us and excited about him going forward.”
Around the horn
- The Orioles recalled right-hander Spenser Watkins to take Wells’ place on the roster.
- Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann could be activated from the 60-day injured list during Baltimore’s series with the Boston Red Sox, Hyde said, and is a possibility to replace Keegan Akin, who is done for the season with a left adductor strain, in the rotation.
- A night after homering to record the Orioles’ first 30-30 season, Cedric Mullins was given a night out of the lineup. He pinch-hit in the seventh.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
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