In the city that popularized “The Process” in the NBA, the Orioles displayed Monday night the continued success of their rebuild.
Dean Kremer, acquired in the 2018 trade that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitched brilliantly. Jordan Westburg, drafted in the first round of the 2020 MLB draft, hit his first career home run. And, most pivotally, Colton Cowser — picked in the first round of the 2021 draft — hit a ninth-inning double to score 2019 second-round selection Gunnar Henderson.
The Orioles beat the Phillies, 3-2, improving to an American League-best 62-38 and moving 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
The Philadelphia 76ers became synonymous with a rebuild when the pro basketball team suffered through several losing seasons in the 2010s, but collected draft picks and have put together six straight playoff appearances — although they’ve yet to reach the conference finals in that span.
The Orioles similarly endured several losing seasons, but currently sit as the second-best club in all of baseball. It’s been a season full of wins like Monday’s: narrow and nerve-wracking, but all the more impressive.
An announced sellout crowd of 44,043 — including many Orioles fans — was on its feet in the tense final minutes as the Orioles gunned Bryce Harper out at the plate in the eighth inning and then scored in the ninth to take home a series-opening win.
Kremer allowed five runs in his last outing but was exceptional Monday. He completed seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks, striking out three. He did not get the win but has now thrown seven innings in three of his past six starts.
Baltimore’s offense didn’t score in bunches, but Westburg gave the Orioles an early lead with a homer down the right field line in the second inning. The 24-year-old had hit 60 career minor league homers, but Monday marked his first one in the big leagues. Prior to Monday, his most recent home run came June 23 for Triple-A Norfolk.
Ryan Mountcastle then became the second Oriole to homer for the first time in more than a month. The first baseman missed a month after experiencing vertigo, but hit his first home run since May 24, blasting one over the center field fence for his 12th of the season.
The Phillies knotted the game in the eighth inning. . Nick Castellanos doubled home a run off Danny Coulombe, but the Orioles limited the damage as Cowser relayed a throw to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who threw to catcher James McCann — starting in place of a resting Adley Rtuschman — to tag out Harper at home.
Cowser didn’t start the game, entering in the third inning in place of Aaron Hicks, who suffered a left hamstring cramp, but he made the game’s biggest play, as his hit eluded Kyle Schwarber, the Phillies’ diving left fielder, scoring Henderson.
The drama wasn’t over yet, though, as the Phillies put two on base with Cionel Pérez on the mound in the ninth. But with Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano both resting, Pérez notched the save, getting Johan Rojas to ground into a fielder’s choice, giving the rebuilt Orioles another win, their eighth in 11 games since the All-Star break.
Despite struggles, Hyde ‘believes’ in Fujinami’s stuff
Shintaro Fujinami has not impressed in his two outings since the Orioles acquired the right-hander last week, allowing three runs in 1 2/3 innings and struggling with his control. But manager Brandon Hyde said before Monday’s game that, based upon his last 10 games in Oakland, he has “some of the best stuff there is in the major leagues.”
It’s unclear at this point, Hyde said, what his role will be going forward. Fujinami didn’t appear in Monday’s game against the Phillies, but Hyde said he “believes in his stuff, a lot.”
“He’s going to help us in the last two months of the year,” he said.
Orioles at Phillies
Tuesday, 6:40 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM