Brandon Hyde couldn’t finish his thought. The Orioles manager had just recalled seeing closer Jorge López lead his son, Mikael, around the clubhouse in Boston for his 9th birthday earlier this season, and the knowledge of all López and his family have been through caught Hyde in that moment.
He paused. His eyes welled with tears. He excused himself and left the interview room, overcome with emotion — and gratitude for the recognition López has received.
López, who has one of the best ERAs among relievers in the league and holds 16 saves, was named an American League All-Star for the first time on Sunday. The meaning of that nomination goes beyond López, who has thoroughly deserved it.
It goes to Mikael, his son, who has battled several autoimmune disorders since his birth.
“To add this to my career and my family is huge,” López said. “I’ve been thinking a lot, just not me, just my son, who deserves this. He’s the one who’s been motivating me.”
Away from baseball, the 29-year-old from Puerto Rico and his wife, Karla, have raised their son through frequent hospital stays. The combination of familial Mediterranean fever and Crohn’s disease has forced Mikael to spend much of his life in the hospital, away his from his father during the grueling baseball season.
Mikael underwent an intestinal transplant when he was just over a year old. A bone marrow transplant last year brought about a considerable improvement, allowing Mikael to watch his father pitch in person against the Red Sox for the first time in three years — celebrating his birthday with the Orioles.
López said Mikael will be in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium on July 19 for the All-Star Game.
“He’s had to deal with a lot, not only baseball-wise, personally and with his family situation and his son,” Hyde said.
On the mound, success hasn’t always been there for López, who featured as a starter for much of his career before transitioning to the bullpen with Baltimore full-time this year.
López joined the Orioles (43-44) as a waiver pickup from the Kansas City Royals in 2020. He held a 6.07 ERA last year, making 25 starts for Baltimore. But Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias saw a role for him.
As the primary late-game option, López holds a 1.74 ERA. His 16 saves are tied for the 10th most in the majors, and his 0.968 WHIP is the lowest of his career.
“That’s something I think at this level you don’t see a lot, when a guy who struggled a lot is given that opportunity,” López said. “I don’t waste it.”
López hasn’t been perfect, though. He struggled in Minnesota against the Twins when he allowed home runs in consecutive games to blow ninth-inning leads. Then he returned home July 4 and allowed another homer, his third in as many appearances after not allowing a long ball in his first 37 innings.
Since then, though, López has recorded three straight saves for Baltimore, returning to the form that has helped the Orioles win eight straight games and surge toward .500 and a wild-card slot.
“The truth is, he’s really important,” said right-hander Félix Bautista through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Regardless of what’s happened lately, what happens over the course of the season, he’s a proven closer and he’s our closer.”
López’s rise has coincided with a steep increase in fastball velocity. His four-seamer and sinker are averaging two mph extra than they had in 2021, and his slider has gained two inches in vertical drop along with 5.4 inches of horizontal movement, according to Statcast.
That development has made him an obvious selection for the All-Star Game. But as the Orioles improve, there was an outside chance Baltimore could’ve earned more than one representative.
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Outfielder Austin Hays made a case with his .261 average and seven outfield assists. Right-hander Tyler Wells might’ve been another option, with a 3.28 ERA in 17 starts.
But few can argue against López’s worthiness for a place at the Midsummer Classic.
“If he’s not on our team, I don’t know where we’re at,” first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said. “He’s been unbelievable all year, and for him to get the All-Star nod, I’m so happy for the guy. He’s been through a lot. For him to be in this situation, I’m so happy for him.”
MLB ALL-STAR GAME
At Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
July 19, 8 p.m.
TV: Chs. 45, 5