As professional athletes across the country refused to play Wednesday night, the Orioles played on, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Mychal Givens, perhaps the Orioles’ best reliever this season, allowed a home run in the eighth inning to light-hitting catcher Michael Pérez to account for the difference in a 4-3 loss in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The game, which brings the Orioles to the halfway point of the 60-game season at 14-16, might have come at a turning point for sports in culture.
Beginning with the Milwaukee Bucks, several professional sports teams decided not to play so as not to bring attention away from Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man shot in the back several times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said before the game that he was told of the Bucks striking on his way to do a pregame video conference session with the media. Not long after, the entire NBA playoff bubble was shut down for the night, and possibly for good. The NBA Board of Governors is reportedly set to meet Thursday morning.
Around 6 p.m., those decisions crept into baseball as the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds decided not to play. Out west, the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres also decided not to play, as did the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Other MLB games were in progress or had finished as the announcements trickled in.
Several Black stars in the game, including St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, and Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp, decided not to play as the evening progressed, even though their teams did. MLS and the WNBA also cancelled their games Wednesday.
“At this critical time, players have been deeply affected by the recent events in Wisconsin and by similar events in other parts of the country,” MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “We are proud of the stand our players have taken, and we remain committed to supporting their efforts to effect change in MLB communities and beyond.”
Asher Wojciechowski, the Orioles’ starting pitcher, was already on the field warming up when the conversations started in their clubhouse. Hyde said that there wasn’t time for a full team meeting, but he said that he met with “African-American players, as well as some people that travel with us,” to discuss the matter briefly. None, Hyde said, gave any indication that they didn’t want to play.
“It was such a rush before the game that I just wanted to hear,” Hyde said. “I would have loved to have addressed it with the entire team but there were already people on the field. So, I wanted to make sure that I talked to all the African-Americans that are in the clubhouse and I wanted to see what their thoughts were, see if they had heard what was going on first, but then talk about it and get their thoughts and opinions.”
Outfielder Cedric Mullins, who is Black, said: “It was tough. Before the game after having the discussion, I felt frustration, sadness for [Jacob] Blake and his family and his community. It was definitely hard to push through.”
Mullins said that there’s “always a possibility” that meeting could have gone differently if they had more time before the game and saw what other teams were doing. If there was time, he said he would have expected a full team meeting.
He credited reliever Mychal Givens and Hyde with being leaders in such conversations, with the manager trying to make the Orioles “a collaborative group and discuss these issues that we’re having” while learning in the process.
There simply wasn’t time to accomplish that with the full team Wednesday, they said.
“Before the game started, I’d just recently found out the news on other teams not participating in their games, and my support for them goes beyond just playing a game, because I know why they’re standing up for what they believe in,” Mullins said.
“I support them,” Wojciechowski said. “A lot of communities are hurting. A lot of people are hurting, and athletes are doing what they feel is right to bring awareness to the situation. They have my full support in doing that.”
Hyde said he would support his players in whatever they decided to do regarding Thursday’s series finale at Tropicana Field, though he had no idea whether they would decide to follow suit with the teams who sat out. MLB announced that the three games that were postponed Wednesday are scheduled to be made up as doubleheaders on Thursday.
“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice,” the league said in a statement.
Said Mullins: “We want to continue to make decisions as a team and show each other support throughout this whole process and the pain we’re going through with our different communities.”
The game goes on
Especially early, neither team seemed especially focused. Hyde said that was understandable considering the circumstances.
“I think there’s a lot going on, and there’s a lot of things that are bigger than our game right now,” he said.
The Orioles took an early lead when Mullins bunted for a leadoff single and came around when Hanser Alberto grounded a ball through the right side of the infield and under right fielder Hunter Renfroe’s glove.
Alberto ended up on third base and scored when Renato Núñez hit a chopper to shortstop. The throw came home but sailed to the backstop to allow Alberto to cross safely, though it bounced back to the catcher Núñez was thrown out after rounding first and not making it back in time.
Mullins wasn’t punished for throwing to the wrong base on a double by Joey Wendle in a scoreless first inning for Asher Wojciechowski, but second baseman Brandon Lowe (Maryland) tied the game with a two-run home run in the third.
As is now their custom, the Orioles wasted plenty of chances early. The Rays scored a run off Tanner Scott in the fifth, and the Orioles got it back with a run-scoring single by Anthony Santander.
But the sixth pitcher of the game, Givens, allowed a home run to light-hitting catcher Michael Perez to put them down for good.