For a brief moment during the eighth inning Wednesday night, left-hander Cionel Pérez stood up in the Orioles’ bullpen and began warming. He was an insurance policy, an option to turn to if right-hander Jordan Lyles wavered.
But when Lyles returned to the dugout after another clean inning, Pérez sat down. And manager Brandon Hyde never made his way to the veteran starter to ask whether he had one more inning in the tank.
“I had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do,” Hyde said.
This is how Lyles envisions every start going, picking up his teammates by offering the bullpen a night off. It hasn’t happened as frequently as he’s wanted, though, with Lyles becoming just the second pitcher to throw a complete game during Hyde’s tenure following left-hander John Means’ no-hitter in Seattle last year.
By the time he received the first postgame Gatorade bath he can remember in a long time, Lyles had completed nine innings of one-run ball. He laid the groundwork for Baltimore’s much-needed response after dropping the first two games of a series against the Detroit Tigers, and at the plate, it was the Orioles’ crop of rookies who provided the run support in the 8-1 win.
“Yeah, I went nine, but we got a win tonight,” Lyles said. “I’m very proud of that. Giving another off day to the bullpen, that’s always helpful for this long stretch at the end of the year with a lot of meaningful games still to go. So the win and the day off for the bullpen, that is what I hold my hat on.”
Lyles mowed through the Tigers, throwing 72 of his 94 pitches for strikes, a 76.6% rate. Those 94 pitches marked the fewest from an Orioles pitcher during a complete game since Sidney Ponson in 2004, who did it with 88. The 31-year-old allowed just one run, a solo homer from right fielder Kerry Carpenter in the seventh inning, and gave up three hits with six strikeouts.
As Lyles neared his first complete game since he was a 21-year-old with the Houston Astros — and the first by an Orioles pitcher at Camden Yards since 2017 — the crowd got to its feet. He had impressive defense behind him, with right fielder Kyle Stowers making two diving plays in the ninth inning alone. But it was Lyles’ gem that gave a platform for the Orioles’ rookies to take the stage on offense.
“After we went up — what, 3-0? — it was, get in the zone, stay in the zone, no three-ball counts, no walks,” Lyles said. “It has more to do with the offense, being able to scratch across a couple more runs and force me to be more stubborn in the strike zone.”
The four rookies in Baltimore’s lineup provided the lion’s share of the runs, with a laser of a homer into the bullpen off the bat of Stowers the major blow. Stowers added an RBI single in the eighth, Terrin Vavra reached base thrice on two walks and a single, Gunnar Henderson recorded an RBI on two singles and Adley Rutschman checked in with one of his own.
“It’s so fun,” Stowers said. “I mean, I can’t speak highly enough of those guys. They’re the three of my best friends in the world, getting to do that with them and help the team win together and share moments like that, we’re just going try to enjoy each moment we get together.”
Before the game, Hyde emphasized how veteran infielder Rougned Odor has been the “ultimate team guy” this season. But Odor found himself out of the lineup for the fourth straight game because Hyde wanted to see Vavra playing second base more as the season winds down.
“We’re just looking at some other players right now,” Hyde said, and that could be a more common trend the rest of the way. Stowers has yet to start against a left-handed pitcher, but as Baltimore gathers intel on its rookies for next year and beyond, he could find himself in those situations down the stretch.
The Orioles (77-71) entered Wednesday having scored five runs across five straight losses to the Tigers this season, including a sweep in May. By avoiding another sweep, Baltimore is four games back of the final AL wild-card spot entering Thursday..
The third inning was a welcome reprieve for an offense that had mustered two runs in the first 20 innings of this series. In a relative sense, the Orioles broke out by scoring three runs with just one hit with runners in scoring position — a persistent problem in September rectified Wednesday with a sacrifice fly and an error.
Henderson, batting third after Hyde slotted him at cleanup and leadoff in recent days, drove a single to score Rutschman for the second run of the inning. The knock was just Baltimore’s second with runners in scoring position against Detroit this year.
And by extension, adding on in the eighth was a welcome sight for Hyde. The Orioles finished 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position, as Stowers hit an RBI single and catcher Robinson Chirinos and Rutschman each drove in insurance runs.
It was more than enough for Lyles, who did what he always strives to do: chew through innings.
“His stuff was nasty today,” Chirinos said. “It was the best I’ve seen him the whole year.”
A familiar face
The thought was already in Hyde’s mind, a day before Trey Mancini was set to return to Camden Yards. It’s hard to escape it — what Mancini meant to the Orioles, to the city. Hanging in the dugout stairwell to the clubhouse remains a “F16HT” sign, a homage to Mancini’s successful battle against colon cancer.
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And even though Mancini will be in the visitor’s clubhouse with the Houston Astros beginning Thursday after a trade deadline move away from Baltimore, Hyde expects a hearty ovation from Orioles fans and ample hugs from his former teammates.
Mancini burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2017, becoming an everyday player in Baltimore. He missed the 2020 campaign as he fought cancer, but he made his return in 2021 and opened the 2022 season well, hitting 10 homers before he was traded to the Astros to help Houston’s playoff race.
“I think Trey had an enormous impact on a ton of people here and just everything that he went through, from being a cancer survivor to how he came back from it, his everyday attitude, the smile on his face, the mature manner he has, how great he is to people,” Hyde said. “I think if you watch him or just be around him or watch him on TV, you understand how special of a person he is. Obviously, the fan base here loved him and still continues to love him, and his teammates think so highly of him, as well. We’re proud to have that [F16HT] sign still up. It means a lot from that year.”
Around the horn
- The 2022 Orioles have joined the 2005 Diamondbacks as the only teams since 1900 to win at least 77 games a season after losing 110.
- Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez breezed through three innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday before his outing was derailed in the fourth. The top pitching prospect in baseball departed after 83 pitches, allowing six hits and three runs to go with three walks and seven strikeouts.
- High-A Aberdeen ended its season Wednesday with a 4-0 loss to the Bowling Green Hot Rods in Game 3 of the South Atlantic League championship series.
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