Two years ago Sunday, center fielder Cedric Mullins was nearly a month into an unexpected return to Double-A Bowie. At this time in 2020, he was back in Bowie again, with Sunday marking the anniversary of his demotion to the Orioles’ alternate training site after a 1-for-13 start to the season.
Those benchmark dates make what Mullins achieved Aug. 8, 2021, all the more impressive. On Tampa Bay Rays starter Michael Wacha’s first pitch of what became a 9-6 Orioles loss thanks to another eighth-inning collapse, Mullins homered to the flag court beyond the right-field fence at Camden Yards, becoming the seventh player in franchise history with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season. By reaching the feat in his 108th game played, Mullins has recorded the second-fastest 20-20 campaign among Orioles; Reggie Jackson did so in 104 games in 1976.
“It means everything,” Mullins said. “It’s something I’ll cherish forever, and I just hope to progress from here.”
The Orioles (38-72) have 52 games remaining, and Mullins would need 10 home runs and nine steals within them to record Baltimore’s first 30-30 season.
“There’s still some time left,” he said.
But even a day worth celebrating was negated by the Orioles bullpen, with high-leverage relievers Cole Sulser, Paul Fry and Dillon Tate combining to allow seven runs behind Jorge López as the Rays completed the sweep for their 11th victory in 12 matchups with Baltimore this season.
“The whole room in there is disappointed, discouraged just because we are so inconsistent in our bullpen,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s just disappointing. Sometimes our guys are pretty good out there, and sometimes we walk a lot of people. Just can’t be afraid of the strike zone. You’ve gotta be able to attack hitters. For three years now, sometimes our guys do it, and sometimes they don’t. And that’s why we have a ton of losses like this.”
Brett Phillips cut into the deficit with a solo homer off Sulser in the seventh, and after Fry struggled with his command for a second straight outing and Tampa Bay evened the score at 5, Phillips hit a ball deep but foul down the right-field line, only to hit a grand slam off Dillon Tate a few pitches later for his first career multi-homer game. The Orioles, who lost their fifth straight, allowed 16 runs in the eighth inning in the series, though their franchise-record streak of four games allowing double-digit runs narrowly ended Sunday.
Given that the bullpen faltered with three of Hyde’s most trusted relievers on the mound, he said he was unsure of how to fix a late-inning problem that has hampered the Orioles during his tenure.
“I don’t really know the answer because I have guys up here, right now, in our ’pen, they’re struggling,” Hyde said. “Games that we won for the most part, Paul Fry’s usually been involved, Sulser’s been involved. But we’re missing veterans, we’re missing a couple of guys right now on the IL that might shorten the game a little bit, but it’s the big leagues, too. You’ve got to perform.”
Mullin’s solo shot, which extended his hitting streak to a career-high 16, was part of the Orioles scoring in each of Wacha’s first four innings. Speedsters Jorge Mateo and Richie Martin scored both runs in the second, with Mateo getting hit by a pitch, stealing second and coming home on Martin’s single. On a steal attempt of his own, Martin slid headfirst into second and, with Austin Wynns singling on the pitch, got up in time to reach third. Austin Hays later singled him home.
After Anthony Santander narrowly missed a catch against the right-field wall that led to Tampa Bay’s first run, he made up for it with a home run, his first since July 6. Austin Meadows answered with a solo shot in the top of the fourth, but Hays got that run back with another RBI single. Santander added a run-scoring double in the ninth.
Length from López
The early offensive output backed López, who was sharp for a second straight start.
After holding the New York Yankees to one run over six innings, he matched that length while holding the American League East leaders to two runs. He lowered his ERA to 5.75 with the performances, and he left the mound positioned for what would’ve been the Orioles’ fifth straight win in a game he started if not for the bullpen’s collapse.
“I just trust the process,” López said. “I just tried to focus better and tried to get my mindset different, just try to be the best I can out there. All my pitches, the curveball, were really good today. I just need to keep attacking guys.”
Around the horn
- The Orioles placed first baseman/designated hitter Ryan Mountcastle on the 7-day concussion injured list, retroactive to Saturday, and recalled left-hander Alexander Wells from Triple-A Norfolk. Hyde said Mountcastle, who exited Friday’s game after being tagged in the head on a steal attempt, is “feeling a lot better” and “trending in the right direction.”
- Catcher Pedro Severino, who left Saturday’s game with a bruised right knee, won’t require an IL stint and was available off the bench Sunday.
- Infielder Ramón Urías is dealing with some soreness in the upper part of his right leg. He was unavailable Saturday and out of the lineup Sunday.
- Infielder Domingo Leyba cleared outright waivers and accepted an assignment to Norfolk. Right-hander Shaun Anderson, who like Leyba was designated for assignment Wednesday, was claimed by the San Diego Padres on Saturday.
- Keegan Akin, Matt Harvey and John Means are the Orioles’ scheduled starter for their next series against the Detroit Tigers.
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
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