BOSTON — Inside the compact and quiet visitors clubhouse at Fenway Park, Jorge Mateo stopped on his way to the showers to pat Ryan McKenna on the back, part of a wave of support that had come the 26-year-old outfielder’s way over the previous 15 minutes.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth Saturday, McKenna drifted under a softly hit flyball to left, poised to make a catch that would have finalized a 2-0 start to the Orioles’ 2023 season. But the ball hit the heel of his glove, then the grass, putting Masataka Yoshida on base as the tying run for the Boston Red Sox. Two pitches later, McKenna raced to his left, hoping Adam Duvall’s drive off closer Félix Bautista would clang off the Green Monster. Instead, it narrowly cleared the iconic wall, leaving the Orioles with a stunning 9-8 loss on the walk-off home run.
“It was unfortunate timing,” McKenna said afterward. “Bautista was throwing a hell of an inning there, and all of our guys were really working hard to put us in a chance to win that game. Just tough timing.”
McKenna’s drop was the most damning example of an opening series that has featured several miscues from the Orioles’ outfield, considered a defensive strength entering the year. In Thursday’s opening day victory, Baltimore survived a triple that center fielder Cedric Mullins failed to catch at the wall, a double off right fielder Austin Hays’ glove and a single that fell in front of left fielder Anthony Santander. The mistakes caught up to them Saturday, erasing what had been a 7-1 lead.
With two on in the seventh, Duvall lofted a flyball toward right, seeming as if it might curl around Fenway’s Pesky Pole for a go-ahead home run. Instead, an awkward route from Hays allowed it to land in fair territory. The ball’s bounce into the stands stopped the tying run from scoring, but the Orioles wouldn’t have the same fortune on McKenna’s ninth-inning error.
“We’ve got some areas we need to clean up,” Hays said. “It’s been uncharacteristic so far. But it’s got to be better, just to put it simply. We’ve gotta be better out there, and our pitchers are doing a good job. We’ve just got to pick those guys up.”
Throughout the Orioles’ breakout 2022 season, McKenna was routinely turned to as a late-inning defensive replacement, earning praise for his handling of that role. He was the starting left fielder Saturday, with manager Brandon Hyde wanting to stack his lineup with right-handed batters against Boston lefty Chris Sale. Having McKenna in the outfield earlier than usual paid off in the fourth, when he laid out for an impressive diving catch.
But that play, Hays’ 5-for-5 day and the Orioles’ record-setting 10 steals through two games all faded to the background when McKenna dropped a ball Hays said he catches “999 times out of 1,000.”
“That’s heartbreaking right there at the end,” Hays said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in McKenna. I’ve seen him make some amazing plays. I know he’s a great outfielder, and if you play this game long enough, you’re bound to have one of those plays happen.
“I just let him know that he’s a great outfielder, and every time the ball’s hit to him, I have 100% faith and confidence that he’s going to catch every ball, and just because this one play happened, that doesn’t change.”
Hays was among those to tell McKenna that it’s a long season and they would need him to achieve their hopes of reaching the postseason. Bautista and starting pitcher Dean Kremer both noted the Orioles have 160 games to play beyond Saturday’s.
“Obviously, it sucks,” McKenna said. “But we move forward.”
Had McKenna caught the ball, the focus would have belonged to another impressive day for Baltimore’s offense. After Adley Rutschman went 5-for-5 as the Orioles stole five bases in the opener, Hays managed five hits in five tries, adding the team’s fifth steal of the day. The Orioles became the first team since at least 1901 to steal 10 bases and have two players record five-hit games in the first two games of a season.
Hays’ first hit was the second of Baltimore’s two first-inning home runs against Sale. Rutschman singled with one out, making him the first player in team history to reach base safely in his first seven plate appearances of a season. Ryan Mountcastle then launched a home run off a sign above the Green Monster, with a projected distance of 422 feet. Hays topped that two batters later, clearing the fence to the right of the Monster with a 430-foot solo shot. He added two doubles and two well-placed singles.
After Mateo — who suffered cuts on his right hand while stealing third base in the second inning but remained in the game — brought in a run in the third with a bases-loaded fielder’s choice, Cedric Mullins scored three with a blast to center. Typically the Orioles’ leadoff hitter, Mullins was dropped to eighth in Hyde’s lineup Saturday against Sale after he hit .209 with a .570 OPS off left-handers in 2022.
Given a six-run lead, Kremer walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the third, starting an inning in which he surrendered a pair of two-run home runs, one by Duvall.
“I just didn’t put up zeros after we scored,” Kremer said, “and that let them back into the game.”
The Orioles added a run on an RBI double from Santander, serving as the designated hitter, but didn’t score over the final five innings. Mike Baumann pitched a scoreless fourth with McKenna’s help before Danny Coulombe and Austin Voth worked their own shutout frames. Voth then gave up a home run to open the seventh.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
The Red Sox got the score to 8-7 when Hays couldn’t track down Duvall’s double, a ball with an expected batting average of .140.
“We’ve got some really good defensive outfielders,” Hyde said. “We’ve just had a tough couple games, honestly. Tough conditions the other day, a little windy today. But yeah, we’ll play better outfield defense.
“Mac’s done a really great job in the outfield for us for a few years now. Mistakes happen, and unfortunately, it was just a tough time, but we have a lot of confidence in him and his defense. I feel bad for him right now. Nobody feels worse in there than Mac, and so we’ve just got to rally around him.”
Around the horn
- The Orioles listed their starters for their upcoming road series against the Texas Rangers as right-handers Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells and Kyle Gibson. That lines up Kremer to start Thursday’s home opener against the New York Yankees.
- Reliever Mychal Givens, who opened the season on the 15-day injured list with left knee inflammation, is “improving daily,” Hyde said, and should have a side session off a mound in the middle of next week.
- Corner infielder/outfielder Josh Lester, among the Orioles’ final spring training cuts, hit three home runs for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday after homering in the team’s opener Friday.
- The Orioles’ other three full-season minor league affiliates announced their break camp rosters Saturday. Notably, 2020 second-overall pick Heston Kjerstad is set to start the year at Double-A Bowie after ending last season with High-A Aberdeen, and 2022 first-overall selection Jackson Holliday will return to Low-A Delmarva to begin his first full season in the organization.
Orioles at Red Sox
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM