As he did in Thursday’s home opener, Trey Mancini paused before his first at-bat Saturday as members of the Camden Yards crowd stood and applauded. He did not wait long to give those Orioles fans a reason to stay on their feet.
In the first of 10 innings in Baltimore’s 6-4 defeat, Mancini crushed the first pitch he saw from Boston Red Sox right-hander Garrett Richards for a home run, his first in a regular-season game since he hit his 35th of the 2019 season. What followed that campaign, one that earned him Most Valuable Oriole honors, was a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis during the next spring training that saw him spend the 2020 season undergoing chemotherapy treatments rather than being in the heart of the Orioles’ lineup.
During this spring training, Mancini said he wouldn’t consider his return from that diagnosis complete until he took the field on Opening Day. He crossed that benchmark off his list. Saturday’s shot offered the latest proof that he’s rounding back into his old form.
“It gave everybody chills,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said.
Mancini had struggled to this point in his return, with five hits in 28 at-bats and strikeouts in more than a third of his plate appearances. It would’ve been hard to tell, though, by how he jumped on Richard’s first offering. The solo home run launched off his bat at 111.9 mph, per Statcast, the hardest an Oriole has hit a homer since July 2019 and the third hardest of Mancini’s career.
“Our dugout exploded,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Seemed like there was a lot of relief for Trey coming into the dugout after that. That’s his strength right there, getting the ball up in the air, middle of the field, right-center, so that was great to see. Hopefully, that will get him going.”
The blast cut Baltimore’s early 2-0 deficit in half, and Anthony Santander went deep on the next pitch to even the score, the first time two Orioles homered on consecutive first pitches since Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop did so in 2018. Naturally, the homers prompted even more cheers from an audience that has been continually supportive of Mancini. He said Thursday’s ovations, which came both during pregame introductions and before each of his plate appearances, caused him to have to “fight back some tears.”
“It was nothing short of what I expected,” Mancini said afterward. “We have the best fans in baseball here and no matter what, they love us, and that showed today and meant the world to me. … I have goose bumps thinking about it still.”
Mancini had a quiet night after the home run, including a groundout with the bases loaded to end an Orioles rally in the bottom of the eighth. With the Orioles trailing 3-2 entering the inning, Ryan Mountcastle led off with a single and DJ Stewart, in his first game off the injured list for a hamstring injury suffered early in spring, followed with a double for his first hit of 2021. Mountcastle took off on contact when Maikel Franco hit a chopper to first, scoring the tying run.
After a popup for the first out, shortstop Freddy Galvis fell behind 0-2 but flipped a go-ahead single into left field. Baltimore threatened for more with the bases full and Mancini up, but Boston’s Rafael Devers made a strong throw from deep third to get the third out.
Devers pestered the Orioles throughout the night. After he singled to plate a two-out, first-inning run against Ellicott City native Bruce Zimmermann in his start at Camden Yards with fans in attendance, Devers got caught off first base when catcher Chance Sisco threw behind him to Mancini. But he lasted in a rundown long enough for Xander Bogaerts to score from second base before he got tagged out, clapping toward Boston’s dugout.
“You’ve got to make the runner commit a little bit better than we did,” Hyde said. “That’s something we work on in spring training quite a bit and just didn’t execute it tonight.”
From there, though, Zimmermann settled in, as did the defense behind him. In the fourth inning, Stewart quickly got to the Christian Arroyo’s double into the left-field corner and relayed it to second baseman Rio Ruiz, who from his natural third-base positioning fired home to catch Marwin González and preserve the tie. After hitting a long double in the third, Kiké Hernández nearly hit a two-run home run in the fifth, but Mullins casually made the catch against the outfield wall. Ruiz then made a nice recovery on a grounder Galvis deflected to end that inning.
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“Luckily, I had a hell of a defense behind me,” Zimmermann said.
But in the sixth, Devers again tagged a long home run against the Orioles, his second in as many games this series, leaving Zimmermann with three runs allowed in six innings for the second straight start. Behind him, Adam Plutko and Tanner Scott pitched a scoreless inning each before closer César Valdez came on to preserve the new lead in the ninth. Two one-out singles put runners and the corners, and although Valdez produced a grounder, the Orioles weren’t able to convert it into a game-ending double play.
“César Valdez has been so good for us, and he did what he usually does, and that’s get a lot of ground balls, and they found the holes on a couple of them, and that’s going to happen,” Hyde said. “He got close to a double-play ball. … Just a half-step late. He got the ground ball in a big spot. It was just unfortunate where the ground balls were placed from our end.”
Ryan McKenna’s strikeout to end the bottom of the ninth was their 100th strikeout of 2021 in only their eighth game. The Red Sox scored twice against right-hander Dillon Tate, who Hyde said he had hoped to stay away from and will likely give a couple of days off, in the top of the 10th, and Baltimore was unable to mount another rally.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
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