WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — In case Rougned Odor needed any assistance, a Little Leaguer sitting behind home plate at Bowman Field on Sunday stood up and waved his arms, up and down, while shouting. Odor’s Orioles teammates were doing the same, signaling for the Baltimore second baseman to slide.
The head-first dive — as smooth of a slide as Odor displayed on the hill at the Little League World Series complex earlier in the day — slipped in before the tag, and the Orioles pointed to shortstop Jorge Mateo on second, who cleared the bases with his eighth-inning double.
Baltimore had faltered in the top half of the frame, giving up a one-run lead they’d held throughout. But as the Orioles have done for much of the season, they battled back immediately, leading to a 5-3 win in the Little League Classic.
“It was a really special moment for me,” Mateo, who has hit .301 since July 4, said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “It was really cool seeing all the kids get excited and really enjoy that moment and cherish it. It was something that reminded me of my own childhood, so just getting a hit like that meant a lot to me.”
Out of the bullpen, right-hander Félix Bautista still entered to Omar’s whistle. He allowed a leadoff homer to Xander Bogaerts but nothing else, preserving a key series win in a playoff push.
By the time the evening rolled around, the day turned somewhat normal. There was just baseball to play — all the hoopla of the autographs and hill sliding at the Little League World Series complex had passed.
Even baseball, however, was somewhat different. The Orioles (63-58) crammed inside the tight clubhouse of Bowman Field, an experience more akin to their minor league days. The players lined up on the field pregame in opening day style, and the crowd to watch them was composed mainly of Little League squads full of kids dreaming of joining the big league ranks one day.
“I tried to treat it as a normal start as best I could,” right-hander Dean Kremer said. “But I had a blast all day. The kids have been great all day, and the atmosphere and the game, it brought back memories of being a kid. Sometimes in this line of work, it becomes work, and you forget it’s still a game. And today brought that back for a lot of us.”
Those kids watched two teams striving to stay in the American League wild-card race. With Baltimore’s win, it moved to within 2 1/2 games of the final postseason spot. And they did it while playing on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” for the first time since 2018 — showing that this Orioles team isn’t the one of old.
Pulling out these sorts of games is evidence enough.
“In ’18, ’19, you play them and you can get to them in the last third of the game,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Now, they have the lead and the game is almost over. It’s a testament to who they are. I have a pretty good idea what they’re doing upstairs, and it’s pretty similar to what happened in Houston. You start building through pitching, and you see the athletes they have for position players. They’re really good, and this is just the beginning.”
Behind a strong pitching display — from their starter and the bullpen — the Orioles hung around until they broke the game open late. Kremer followed up one of his best outings this season with another standout display Sunday, allowing one run over 5 1/3 innings.
Kremer threw his five-pitch arsenal almost evenly, but he received an assist throughout the night from catcher Adley Rutschman with his ability to frame pitches on the edge of the zone as strikes. To close the fifth, Rutschman framed a sinker below the zone well enough to strike out Bobby Dalbec. The next batter, Kevin Plawecki, was called out on a four-seam fastball near the outside edge.
“He got better as the game went on,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “His stuff was improving.”
Right-hander Dillon Tate had cruised through the first five batters he faced after entering in relief of Kremer. He got out of a jam in the sixth, whizzed through the seventh and took the mound again in the eighth — preparing for his third up-and-down as a reliever.
But Cora countered, bringing pinch hitter Franchy Cordero to the plate to lead off the eighth. And instead of altering his own plans, Hyde stuck with a righty-lefty matchup at the plate, leaving left-hander Cionel Pérez warm in the bullpen.
Hindsight tends to be this way, but the decision came back to haunt Hyde, who later said he hoped to get to Bautista for a four-out save. Cordero powered an opposite-field home run off Tate, and Hyde hopped out of the bullpen to insert Pérez a batter later than he might’ve been in the game.
Pérez retired the next three batters, preserving a level score and setting the stage for Mateo’s clutch at-bat in the eighth.
Early, then late
For much of the Orioles’ season, late offense has been a calling card. But against Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta, the breakthrough came early before the bats quickly quieted.
In the first inning, Cedric Mullins, Rutschman and Anthony Santander knocked three straight singles to bring home the first run. Then Ramón Urías’ two-out single brought home the second run of the frame.
That was it until the eighth, when Mateo’s bases-clearing gave Baltimore the lead again. Pivetta forced 17 whiffs, per Statcast, and retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced. He finished with nine strikeouts.
Baltimore struck against the bullpen, though, resurrecting a game that had been tied just moments earlier. It’s part of what makes the Orioles different than in past years, Cora said.
“They’ve been doing that to a lot of teams,” Cora said. “They’re in a good spot because they’ve been able to finish games.”
A presidential visit
Before a ball had even left the yard, Mullins laid the Orioles home run chain around someone’s neck.
President George W. Bush visited the Baltimore clubhouse Sunday, and Mullins honored him with the highest honor he could: “All 18 carats of plastic and foam,” Mullins laughed.
“It was cool having him in there,” Mullins said. “He’s a relaxed guy. It was fun. He was in there for a hot second but kind of gave us a quick confidence boost, saying we’re a solid team. He likes the scrap in us.”
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After meeting Bush, Hyde has met five presidents. He said Bush “kept it really loose” and “was funny” before the game. The former president already knew Odor and catcher Robinson Chirinos from their time with the Texas Rangers, with whom he used to be a part-owner.
Around the horn
>> The Orioles announced outfielder Brett Phillips cleared waivers and has been assigned to Triple-A Norfolk. Phillips was designated for assignment when Baltimore called up outfielder Kyle Stowers on Friday.
>> Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the 27th man for Sunday’s game, was returned to the Tides.
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
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