The pickoff attempt from right-hander Albert Abreu didn’t squirt very far from first baseman DJ LeMahieu, but Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo hardly needs an invitation to run.
His helmet flew off his head as he rounded second base, chugging for third. His eyes were set on that base, and his head-first slide beat the throw across the diamond and brought the announced 36,361 fans to their feet — the New York Yankees contingent in exasperation and the Baltimore faithful in glee.
“I told [third base coach Tony Mansolino], ‘I don’t think you’re going to get anyone in the rest of your career get to you faster,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He was flying.”
It had been this way throughout Saturday night’s game, with speed on the bases a decisive difference-maker for the Orioles. Mateo and center fielder Cedric Mullins both swiped bags in the fifth inning, setting up the first breakthrough against the American League East-leading Yankees.
And now it was that off-the-mark pickoff attempt from Abreu, his very first contribution since replacing right-hander Gerrit Cole, sending the go-ahead run blazing toward third. A few pitches later, Mullins’ sacrifice fly led to Mateo’s head-first slide into home, giving the Orioles a 4-3 lead in a game they’d go on to win, 6-3.
“Man,” right-hander Jordan Lyles said, “watch out for the Orioles.”
Baltimore (47-47) opened the second half of the season with a loss Friday, battling back into the game on a three-run homer by Anthony Santander but still falling short, 7-6. It’s as if the Orioles don’t know how to play any other way. Close games are a near-given, with 10 of their 14 games this month decided by two runs or fewer. Saturday turned into one of the four exceptions, thanks to a late blast.
“We don’t have many easy wins, and we don’t have many losses where we’re out of it,” Hyde said.
There was little excitement until the fifth, when a two-out single from Mateo acted as a spark plug. He promptly swiped second base, then scored on Mullins’ single. Then Mullins stole second and scored on rookie catcher Adley Rutschman’s 17th double in 48 games.
“The moment I step on first,” Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones, “I’m immediately thinking about finding ways to get to second base as quickly as possible.”
Those moments topped what looked to be another big night for Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who could do no wrong for the second straight game. There were his two homers Friday — increasing his league-leading total to 36 — and his two doubles in his first two at-bats Saturday. Then there was a bloop single in the fourth, as he flailed at an outside slider from Lyles and dropped it between Mateo and outfielders Mullins and Austin Hays.
But that bloop wouldn’t hurt, not with Mateo’s speed on the bases creating havoc before Ramón Urías provided insurance. He crushed his third hit of the night for a two-run homer to deep left field in the eighth inning — showing Baltimore could do a bit of both, with the long ball and speed combining into a win.
“We just stay together,” Urías said. “We fight for the whole game.”
It looked as if Lyles’ night might be over after the fourth inning, when he allowed a third run and his pitch count elevated to 88. But out he came for the fifth, ready to face a batter who had already blasted a solo homer off him.
“[Hyde] wanted to shake my hand. I said no,” Lyles said. “I said, ‘Hey, if I don’t get the first guy, come get me.’”
Hyde wouldn’t need to go get Lyles, who put together his most efficient inning of the night to complete five frames, retiring the side in order for the first time. It finished what has been such a frequent sight from Lyles — he walks a tight rope but keeps the game close.
“Keep the team in the game would be the most polite way of how I pitched,” Lyles said.
The Yankees put up their three runs in swift fashion, with Judge doubling home LeMahieu two batters into the game. The next inning, Matt Carpenter hit his 14th homer in just 34 games this season, and Judge’s bloop single plated another run in the fourth to establish a 3-0 edge.
It could’ve been more had Lyles not escaped the third inning unscathed, stranding the bases loaded. Particularly with his slider, Lyles left most of his pitchers elevated in the strike zone. He drew seven swings with that slider, and all seven resulted in balls in play for New York. He drew just two whiffs overall, with one each on his four-seam fastball and sinker.
“We scrambled, we got through it,” Lyles said. “I didn’t pitch well. I didn’t throw strikes. I didn’t throw quality strikes. My slider wasn’t there, my curveball wasn’t there, changeup wasn’t there. A lot of things weren’t there.”
But if his stuff didn’t induce swings and misses, Lyles still gutted through that fifth inning, slightly lightening the load for the bullpen while keeping his offense in the game. Of course, that load is never light against the Yankees. Left-hander Cionel Pérez stranded a runner on third in the seventh as part of another lockdown bullpen display featuring more otherworldly stuff from right-hander Félix Bautista.
The rookie used a 102 mph fastball followed by a 91 mph splitter to get Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa swinging before freezing pinch-hitter Giancarlo Stanton with two fastballs above 100 mph and a splitter about 10 mph slower, all on the inside third of the plate.
After Urías’ homer, closer Jorge López touched 101 mph for the first time this season, stranding runners in scoring position and leaving the mound with a doubled-over yell.
“I’m sure he had the adrenaline flowing,” Hyde said. “You saw the energy with our guys, the energy with him on the mound.”
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>> Orioles prospect Coby Mayo has reported to Sarasota and will play a few games in the Florida Complex League next week as he recovers from back spasms, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Baltimore Sun. If that goes well, Mayo will return to Double-A Bowie after that stint.
>> Manager Brandon Hyde said right-hander Austin Voth will start for Baltimore on Monday to begin the series against the Tampa Bay Rays, with right-hander Spenser Watkins following Tuesday.
>> The announced crowd of 36,361 at Camden Yards on Saturday was the largest since 44,461 attended opening day on April 11. Plenty of those 36,361 are Yankees fans, however, with loud chants throughout the game.
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