When trying to reverse a long losing streak like the Orioles were Tuesday night, it sometimes takes a superhuman play to change course.
So after Cedric Mullins sprinted into the right-field gap in the third inning and in one motion slid, caught a Nelson Cruz drive to keep the game tied and halted his body to lessen the impact with the wall, everyone on the Orioles felt what could be possible.
They might win. And eventually, they did.
In a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins that halted their 14-game losing streak before it grew a mustache and asked for the car keys, Bruce Zimmermann was at his best on the mound and stars Mullins and Trey Mancini lived up to that billing to lead an Orioles effort that overcame the unease that so much losing can create.
“We were tested, but we came through,” Mancini said.
The announced crowd for the first game without any pandemic-related capacity restrictions was the smallest for any full-capacity game in the history of Camden Yards at 5,337. It took about that many things to go right for the Orioles to break this skid, tied with the inaugural 1954 team for the second-longest in club history, and everyone chipped in.
Mullins, who at that point had already tripled and scored on a single by Mancini, contributed as much as anyone. Kyle Garlick had already homered in the third inning to tie the game, and a runner on first would have come around to score had Cruz’s drive fallen.
Instead, Mullins’ catch earned a standing ovation at Camden Yards and helped contribute to what manager Brandon Hyde called “the most vocal our dugout has been in probably three years.”
Said Zimmermann: “I think that was the turning point in the game. Like, ‘All right, let’s go now.’ Everybody saw that. We were ready to roll, and you could see kind of the momentum shift in our favor after that catch.”
In the home half of the inning, Mullins and Mancini again sparked things.
Mullins singled with one out in the third inning, stole second and scored on a single by Mancini again. Freddy Galvis scored Mancini with a single, DJ Stewart scored Anthony Santander with a groundout and Ryan Mountcastle scored Galvis with an automatic double that hopped over the fence in left-center on one bounce. Pedro Severino homered in the fifth to make it 6-1, and after Zimmermann exited with a run in and two on in the sixth, Dillon Tate stranded them and Maikel Franco opened the bottom of the inning with a home run to expand the lead to 7-2.
Even so, it was never truly comfortable. What could be with a team that has lost after leading early, after leading late and everything in between for the past two-plus weeks?
Zimmermann put runners on the corner with one out in the fifth before striking out two. Tate was trying to strand Zimmermann’s runners when second baseman Stevie Wilkerson bobbled a simple double-play turn that would have ended the inning, though he made up for it with a nice play up the middle for the third out.
Tate loaded the bases in the seventh and passed things off to Tanner Scott, who allowed just one run to score. César Valdez allowed a home run to Willians Astudillo to cut the lead to 7-4 in the eighth, but a scoreless ninth from Cole Sulser after he brought the tying run to the plate made winners of the Orioles for the first time since the 10-6 Mother’s Day win over the New York Yankees on May 16.
“Probably a lot more relief than happiness at that point,” Hyde said. Even after the game, the manager said that he was probably “still a little irritated” that it felt so uncomfortable despite having built the big lead.
But there was enough cushion to where the shrinking late lead didn’t much matter.
“We were so close the past four or five games,” Zimmermann said. “It was like we were just missing a hit here or a pitch there. Going into this game, it was the same thing. We were on attack mode and the bats showed up and they performed for us. The defense made plays when we needed to and the pitchers got outs in big situations. It kind of all synced up for us finally tonight.”
This victory not only ended their 14-game losing streak, but also a 16-game losing streak to the Twins.
“It was just a really strange streak,” Mancini said. “I know Hyder alluded to it earlier but most of those games, we were in. Things didn’t bounce our way. We were all pressing. I think kind of as a unit, whenever the game got close and things like that. But tonight, we let it all go. It was June 1, kind of a natural reset for us. We all decided to forget about May and come out strong in June.”
Zimmermann returns to form
For the second straight start, Zimmermann (Ellicott City) showed the kind of form that the Orioles hoped for when he went to the minors last month. He struck out a career-high seven on 19 swinging strikes in 5 ⅓ innings of two-run ball, lowering his ERA to 4.96. Since returning from that minor league assignment, Zimmermann has made three starts and pitched once in relief; he’s gone at least five innings and allowed two runs or fewer in three of those.
He did it Tuesday with what’s considered his best approach — attacking right-handed hitters on the hands with fastballs and mixing the rest of his pitches well. His slider was particularly effective Tuesday, and he used it to strike out Josh Donaldson to strand two in the fifth.
“The pitch of the game was the punch-out to Donaldson in the fifth,” Hyde said.
Mullins catch by the numbers
According to MLB’s Statcast data, similar batted balls have an expected .730 batting average. Mullins saved a run in the process. Statcast said there was a 30% catch probability, making it a four-star catch on a one-to-five scale, according to MLB.com.
He traveled 87 feet for the catch.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
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