BALTIMORE — The most downtrodden baseball team on the planet faced the game’s most transcendent star Wednesday night, a stage ostensibly designed to showcase Shohei Ohtani’s singular greatness.
Instead, it served as a platform to remind us the many ways this absurd sport can startle us all.
The Baltimore Orioles were just a few minutes from their 20th consecutive loss, putting them shoulder-to-shoulder with their 1988 brethren who lost an American League record 21 straight, when a terrible Los Angeles Angels bullpen interceded on their behalf.
Or perhaps it was the sage.
After 19 straight losses, the longest skid in the majors since 2005, Orioles catcher Austin Wynns arranged overnight delivery of the sacred herb to Camden Yards, where he and veteran Trey Mancini jolted their teammates and manager Brandon Hyde out of their pregame routines by spreading its pungent aroma.
“He and I walked around the ballpark,” Mancini said of Wynns, “and saged everything we could. Took a good 15 minutes to walk around and made sure we took our time and did it right.
“And it worked.”
A club that was outscored 180-64 the previous 19 games instead saw an Angels bullpen fold in a manner that looked far too familiar to these bedraggled Orioles, who rallied for six runs in the seventh and eighth innings to avoid the record books and record a 10-6 victory over Ohtani’s Angels, their first since an Aug. 2 triumph at Yankee Stadium.
On that night, the last-place Orioles blew out the Yankees in a game marked by the appearance of an elusive grey tabby cat, who outfoxed security guards and danced atop the outfield fence, seemingly taunting the home team.
It turned out the joke was on the Orioles: They lost 16 consecutive games by multiple runs, a modern record, and with a staff filled with minimum-wage arms and a lineup dotted with waiver claims and newbies, the AL-record 21 straight losses to start the ’88 season by Baltimore looked well in reach, as well as the major league record of 23 straight losses by the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies.
Turns out that a boisterous crowd lured out by Ohtani – the 15,867 fans was the Orioles’ largest weeknight home draw of the year and nearly double the 8,700 at Camden Yards a night earlier– instead found itself at an exorcism.
Ohtani had never given up multiple home runs in a game – but the Orioles slammed three off him. They still found themselves in a 6-2 hole entering the bottom of the fourth.
Enter the supernatural.
Not until the streak reached double digits did things get weird in the nether reaches of Camden Yards. Center fielder Cedric Mullins decided to shave his beard. The typically clean-shaven Mancini was shaving himself one day when he abruptly stopped.
“I hate having a mustache,” says Mancini, “so as a form of self-punishment but also to keep things lighter, I told all the guys I’d shave it off when we won.”
And then Mancini took action.
Trailing 6-5, Mancini led off the eighth with a solid single and then Angels relievers Jake Petricka – making his first major league appearance since 2019 – and James Hoyt aided and abetted the cause. Hoyt gave up a double to Anthony Santander, an intentional walk to DJ Stewart and then walked light-hitting shortstop Ramon Urias to force in the tying run. Hoyt walked Kelvin Gutierrez – batting .206 coming in – to force in the go-ahead run.
When pinch hitter Austin Hays narrowly missed a grand slam and pushed home two huge insurance runs with a double to the left field wall, the crowd erupted. It rose to its feet for the final out and when Anthony Santander hauled in a fly to right to end it, Mancini raised his arms in exultation. Hugs abounded throughout the diamond.
And the Orioles clubhouse was “loud,” as Hyde put it, after the club returned to its sanctum.
“I know it was going to look like the big two-oh today,” said All-Star outfielder Mullins, who started the night homering off Ohtani, “but we fought back.”
And found a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The Orioles, now 39-86, are on pace for 111 losses and their third consecutive full season of at least 100 losses. Mancini is the only player on the big league roster for all of them, and he said Wednesday that the 115-loss 2018 season was a lower point than this 19-game losing streak.
That ’18 club had hope, beginning the season with Manny Machado at shortstop and ending it knowing an organizational shakeup and a grim rebuilding lurked around the corner.
This club, and its manager, have been bearing the brunt of that rebuild, a process that leaves the Orioles outmanned almost every night.
They never view defeat as inevitable, but the odds suggest something like this dastardly streak can happen. The odds also suggested they’d be overmatched by Ohtani, who brought a 2.79 ERA into the game and burgeoning momentum that the two-way star may yet add the AL Cy Young Award to his presumptive MVP trophy.
Instead, they turned the tables, metaphysically and on the scoreboard.
“It’s a lot of relief, for sure. It’s been really, really difficult,” Hyde said. “We’re tired of seeing (the streak) on TV.
“An incredibly hard three weeks. These guys have dealt with a lot. Call it rebuilding or what you want, but it’s not fun to lose. You want to show your fans that the big league club is going to be fun to watch and there’s pieces coming. That’s what’s been disappointing.”
For a night, they finally found joy.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Orioles snap 19-game losing streak with comeback win vs. Angels
Source: Yahoo Sports