Asher Wojciechowski began July on a plane heading from Columbus, Ohio, to Tampa, Fla., on his way to join an Orioles organization granting him an opportunity it didn’t last year and no team had in two seasons. He had good reason to feel sky high again Sunday.
The 30-year-old right-hander’s career day in a 5-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox began with six hitless innings before Rafael Devers doubled off Oriole Park’s right-center wall to lead off the seventh. It was the only hit Wojciechowski allowed in 7 1/3 innings, finishing with 10 strikeouts for the Orioles’ first double-digit performance of 2019. By game score, it was the Baltimore’s best start of the season, surpassing David Hess’ 6 1/3 no-hit innings in Toronto on the team’s season-opening roadtrip, as the Orioles won a series against the Red Sox for the first time since Aug. 25-27, 2017.
That season marked the last time Wojciechowski (WOE-juh-HOW-ski) pitched in the major leagues before making his Orioles debut July 2. He spent part of 2018 with Triple-A Norfolk but never with the Orioles, opting out of his minor league deal midseason but unable to make it into the majors with another team. He spent the season’s first few months with the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, his eighth organization, before the Orioles acquired him for cash considerations and immediately inserted him in their major league rotation.
“To be honest, I wrote the Orioles off last year when they didn’t give me a chance,” Wojciechowski said. “The last thing I would think was to be back with the Orioles this year, but I’m happy for the opportunity, I’m happy to be here."
He fared admirably in his first handful of starts, but none matched the dominance of Sunday. Devers was the only Boston batter to consistently make hard contact off Wojciechowski, nearly homering in the first inning, but Trey Mancini caught the ball on the warning track between two strikeouts.
In the bottom half of the inning, Andrew Cashner made his second start for Boston after the Orioles traded him for two 17-year-old prospects eight days prior. Mancini, who homered twice Wednesday, did so again Sunday, with both shots coming off Cashner and giving Mancini 21 on the season. Chris Davis added an RBI double in the second to account for the four runs Orioles scored off their former starter in his six innings.
Wojciechowski, meanwhile, set down five straight Red Sox on strikes from the first inning to the third before hitting Brock Holt with a 2-0 pitch. He recovered mightily, and through four innings, he had already set a career high with nine strikeouts.
The mark he surpassed was seven, set Tuesday against the Washington Nationals. In all of his four starts with Baltimore, Wojciechowski has struck out more than a batter per inning, with Sunday’s outing also featuring a career-high 23 swinging strikes. The three highest swing-and-miss totals of his career have come in his past three starts. In a series that featured the three hottest games at Camden Yards since 2012, Wojciechowski said he could feel a breeze the first few innings, but it’s possible he was generating it himself.
“He had numerous pitches going today," manager Brandon Hyde said. "He had a really nice fastball that had a ton of life. He had a really, really good slider to both right-handers and left-handers. Mixed in some changeups and some curveballs, too, so he had a four-pitch mix going. Was attacking their hitters. Punched out 10 against a good club, against a team that doesn’t expand very often. It was just a great performance.”
He walked Holt to begin the sixth, then got a double play from Marco Hernandez before inducing a soft line drive by Mookie Betts to end the frame still without a hit allowed. Wojciechowski said he was aware of the potential feat “every inning,” saying it’s always his goal to pitch hitless frames. Mancini said he didn’t become aware until he headed out to right field for the seventh and saw the Oriole Park scoreboard.
"I looked up, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they haven’t gotten a hit yet,’ " Mancini said. "And then Devers promptly hit that ball off the wall.
“Wojo just pitched an unbelievable game. It was so fun to play behind him.”
Devers’ 109.3 mph double ended Wojciechowski’s pursuit of the Orioles’ first solo no-hitter in nearly 50 years, but he retired the next three Red Sox to leave Devers at second.
He struck out Christian Vazquez to start the eighth, his 10th punchout, before walking Jackie Bradley Jr. on his 105th pitch. Hyde pulled him to a standing ovation from the Orioles fans among the announced 18,173 in attendance, and Paul Fry struck out the next two to preserve Wojciechowski’s scoreless line. Hyde said after the game he had no pitch limit in mind had Wojciechowski kept the no-hit bid going.
“I was gonna let him go,” Hyde said. "I’m obviously not gonna break any records or anything, but he’s a veteran guy. It was gonna be his moment for as long as he could go.
“He’s come in here with the right mindset of, ‘Give me the ball. I want to go prove to people what I can do.’ And he’s doing that.”
After Jonathan Villar homered in the bottom of the eighth, Mychal Givens completed the Orioles’ fourth shutout of 2019 and gave Wojciechowski his first major league win since Sept. 1, 2017, 22 months before the flight that gave him this chance.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Wojciechowski said. “It’s just crazy. When you try to wrap your head around it, just my career path and how it’s been and eight different organizations. But it is what it is. I’m here now and I’m going to enjoy this one tonight and get back to work tomorrow.”