Anaheim – A big difference between good and great teams is achieving success on the sidelines. Over the past two seasons, the Orioles have become one of baseball’s best teams at acquiring fringe players and turning them into useful MLB options.
Their foundation begins with their young core of star players. Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Grayson Rodriguez are great building blocks. What puts them to this next level are the players who have had success since coming to Baltimore.
That was evident again in Tuesday’s thrilling 5-4 win over the Angels in 10 innings at Angel Stadium. Buoyed by a solid start from Dean Cramer, late offensive plays, and a dynamic save from Shintaro Fujinami, the Orioles completed their 44th win of the season, tied with the Reds for the most majors.
• remaining matches: the LAA (1), the BOS (3), vs. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (3), vs. TB (4), HOU (3), and CLE (4), vs. Ush (2), vs. head (4)
• Ranking update: The Orioles (87-51) lead by three and a half games in the American League East over the second-place Rays (84-55), who beat the Red Sox. Baltimore currently has the best record in the AL, which means that it will not have to play the Wild Card Series and will head to the AL Division Series as the top seed.
The magic number: 21
For Baltimore, each game can have different contributors. On Monday, it was three starters – Rodriguez, Henderson and Jordan Westberg – who led the way in their opening win. On Tuesday, that group was made up of Cramer, Fujinami, Ryan Mountcastle, and Ryan O’Hearn. This explains why the Orioles are such an integrated team.
Tuesday’s match was a perfect example of this. Although Cramer didn’t have his best—and eventually saw the end of his outing before he reached five innings—he still threw 4 2/3 scoreless frames. With his start, he lowered his second-inning ERA to 2.86 in 56 2/3 innings pitched.
“It was a little tough,” Cramer said after his start. “But the team won, and that’s the important thing.”
Kramer has blossomed over the past two seasons. He had a solid 2022 campaign, when he posted a 3.23 ERA across 125 1/3 innings pitched. After the first half of the season—4.78 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 98 innings pitched—Kremer has turned the scenario around since the All-Star break.
When Cramer left the game with a two-goal lead in the fifth inning, Baltimore took a 2-0 lead and held it until the end of the sixth inning. Once the seventh inning reached its stretch, the game took a different direction. After a tie for seventh place, the Angels advanced 3-2 in eighth place.
This one-round deficit was not insurmountable for this comeback team. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde went to the bench in the ninth inning, using two veteran hitters who had not started either of the first two games.
Adam Frazier doubled in his pinch-hit appearance, which was immediately followed by a game-tying, pinch-hit RBI single from O’Hearn. Two strikes later, Mountcastle’s third hit of the night was an RBI single that drove O’Hearn in and put the Orioles back on top.
“It was another example of how we approached the game. That never-die attitude,” O’Hearn said of late-game tournaments. “We take each shot individually, not trying to get ahead of ourselves.”
O’Hearn was another example of a player finding newfound success in Baltimore. Across 342 games with the Royals from 2018-2022, he had a . 683 OPS. O’Hearn was acquired by the Orioles on cash considerations this past January, and has a 0.834 OPS across 90 games with the O’s.
When DL Hall was unable to hold a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, the game went into extra innings. A Westburg groundout put the Orioles back on top again, and Hyde turned the game over to Fujinami.
The 29-year-old right fielder has also seen more success in Baltimore. After a long and successful career in Japan, Fujinami signed with the A’s last winter but struggled in his first MLB stint with them. He posted an 8.57 ERA in 34 games and was traded to the Orioles on July 19.
On Tuesday, Hyde trusted Fujinami to close out the game in the tenth inning. That decision paid off when the righty threw a 1-2-3 frame and knocked out two batters, including a final batter that ended with a bad splitter of 93.8 mph.
“Every outing, I feel like I’m getting better,” Fujinami said through a translator after recording his second MLB save. “Especially after tonight’s walk, I gained more confidence.”
If Fujinami starts harnessing his drive and locating his electrical items, great results may follow. With the Orioles’ recent record, it wouldn’t be surprising if this is the latest player they’ve helped turn around.
“The stuff there. The traitorous punch to the final batter? It wasn’t natural,” Hyde said of Fujinami’s outing. “Being able to do that is special.”
(tags for translation) MLB