Wednesday, February 1 2023

BALTIMORE – Kyle Stowers’ first career home run ball was retrieved from the Camden Yards center field stands by Baltimore Orioles teammate Keegan Akin, who by late Thursday didn’t yet have time to present the rookie outfielder with the artifact.

Should it go up on a pedestal in his San Diego home, Stowers may want to include Adam Engel in the exhibit.

The fate of two burgeoning young players and a pair of playoff teams grasping desperately for contention intersected on Thursday night, in horrid fashion for the Chicago White Sox and in an exhilarating, exhausting, can-you-believe-this manner for the Orioles.

And that’s kind of become the norm in this stunning season.

Down to his team’s final strike, Stowers ripped a two-out, two-strike hanging curveball from All-Star closer Liam Hendriks for a game-tying homer, setting the stage for an 11-inning, 4-3 victory over the White Sox.

Stowers’ homer was merely the capper to a sequence that began moments earlier, when the rookie who was recalled Aug. 19 but was 0 for his last 13 fouled a Hendriks pitch down the left field line, where Engel – in the game specifically for defensive reasons – made a long sprint for the ball and tracked it down with a half-second to spare.

Which was one too many.

‘This is what we did to ourselves’: Can White Sox overcome ‘demons’ in time to make playoffs?

Engel told reporters the ball “came back on me a little bit,” and bloop, it popped right out of his glove. The 13,905 fans murmured in approval, perhaps hoping fate intervened for a club held to just two hits and zero runs the previous seven innings.

Hendriks aided the cause. Instead of pumping another fastball at the rookie, he tried to bury a curveball and left it up. And Stowers, stunningly, left the yard.

His 404-foot drive tied the game 3-3 and made history: Stowers became the first Oriole whose first major league home run tied the game in the ninth inning or later since Rich Coggins in 1973.

And it incited delirium from the basepaths to the dugout.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Kyle Stowers reacts after hitting his first career home run to tie the game in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox.Baltimore Orioles center fielder Kyle Stowers reacts after hitting his first career home run to tie the game in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Kyle Stowers reacts after hitting his first career home run to tie the game in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox.

“I kind of blacked out a little bit,” Stowers said, trying futilely to remember.

“I think he was floating around the bases,” says Orioles manager Brandon Hyde.

Says outfielder Anthony Santander: “The place was about to fall over. It was super exciting, a crazy moment. And the entire time I was calling for it to happen in my head and it gave us the opportunity to win the game later.”

Santander would take care of that himself, with a fly ball single with runners at the corners off Jake Diekman to score the automatic runner. But it was the guy bridging the gap from Stowers to Santander who once again stole the show.

Felix Bautista, the hulking rookie reliever who assumed closer duties earlier this month, continued a stunning campaign by setting down six consecutive White Sox in the 10th and 11th innings, nullifying the automatic runner at second in both games and lowering his ERA to 1.62.

It’s possible Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman has edged ahead of Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez in the race for Rookie of the Year; Hyde thinks both may have company.

“He definitely should be in consideration with our catcher,” says Hyde of Bautista, whose two innings were a career high and who notched his first five-out save two nights earlier. Bautista ranks second in the AL in batting average against (.163).

“What Felix has done all season long is incredible, pitching  in all different roles. Shows how lucky we are to have him.”

The White Sox are anything but. They’ve played listlessly all season long and Thursday night’s game was a gut punch: Chicago remained tied with Minnesota for second place in the AL Central, 3½ games behind Cleveland, and is tied for fifth in the three-team wild card derby, needing to vault three teams to reach the postseason that way.

“It’s never a good feeling,” Hendriks told reporters, “but especially in a game like today where we were grinding through.”

Grand theft: Cardinals laughing their way to playoffs with dynamic duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado

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The Orioles, after losing 110 games a season ago and at least 108 three of the past four seasons, are suddenly 65-59. They’re just three games out of playoff position, with only the Mariners to catch.

And a most unlikely milestone moment may prove huge if they stay in this race.

“To do it at home, super cool,” Stowers, 24, said of his first career homer. “To do it in a high-leverage moment off a really, really good pitcher to give this team more life and a chance to win the game, I couldn’t have asked for a better moment.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Orioles rookie Kyle Stowers stuns White Sox with ninth inning home run

Source: Yahoo Sports

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