CINCINNATI — It started with a leap at the wall, and then all hell broke loose.
The ball screamed off the bat of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Senzel, sailing toward the left field fence in the fifth inning Saturday night. With a leap, Orioles left fielder Austin Hays reached toward the ball and missed the catch. But as the ball ricocheted off the wall, it landed in his glove. That led Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer to believe Hays had caught it cleanly, and he turned and scampered back to first base.
And that’s only the beginning of the wildest moment of the Reds’ 8-2 victory over the Orioles.
Once Hays’ throw reached first baseman Trey Mancini, Senzel had advanced past a retreating Farmer. Mancini jogged over to tag Senzel out, and the Orioles initially began leaving the field for what appeared to be an inning-ending double play. But after a conference between umpires, Baltimore returned to the field and Farmer remained on first.
“Everything kind of happened quickly,” Mancini said. “After all the confusion, I understood why it was ruled the way it was.”
The official ruling stated that because Senzel passed Farmer, the trail runner (Senzel) was out. According to rule 9.05, a runner in a force position must advance a base for the batter to be credited with a hit. That didn’t happen, which nullified the knock for Senzel, leaving beat writers and fans alike bemused and keeping the Orioles on the field needing one more out in the fifth.
“It’s a confusing play,” crew chief Larry Vanover said, via a pool reporter, before adding that the play was “kind of a first” for him as an umpire.
As a fitting conclusion to one of the most bizarre moments of the Orioles’ season, Reds outfielder Jake Fraley stepped to the plate and promptly hit a two-run homer, escalating the madness.
That bomb off right-hander Beau Sulser pushed the game well out of reach and continued the Reds’ run parade that began in the fourth inning against right-hander Dean Kremer. Sulser was one of the few Orioles who remained on the field during the conference of umpires, milling around behind the mound. He never checked out mentally, he said, instead missing his spot with a sinker over the plate to Fraley.
“Tried to be perfect with a fastball, and in my experience when I do that, it leaks back middle,” Sulser said. “I get tight when I try to get perfect. That was more of a mistake than anything else. I knew we were going to have to go back out there.”
There have been few games such as these of late for Baltimore, with a score line well out of reach and little chance for a comeback.
The Orioles pulled off their 23rd come-from-behind win in Friday night’s series opener, 6-2, to ensure an above-.500 record at the 100-game mark for the first time since 2016. The loss Saturday does little to sway Baltimore’s (51-50) form of late, but it does display the precarious nature of the starting rotation.
Kremer allowed six runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking one. He watched two long balls leave Great American Ball Park. He allowed three runs in the fourth, including a two-run shot from second baseman Jonathan India before Joey Votto added his second homer of the series to begin the fifth on a cutter over the plate.
“Should’ve been in,” Kremer said. “Analytically speaking or metrically speaking, shapes were good. Threw balls to good locations. Gave up some bad contact, and then gave up homers here and there to make up the difference.”
An Orioles starter hasn’t completed six innings since right-hander Jordan Lyles did so July 12 against the Chicago Cubs. And while the bullpen has largely been solid — giving up one earned run in its past 16 2/3 innings entering Saturday — the offense has scuffled of late.
Beyond the two runs Baltimore scored in the first inning — an RBI single from Anthony Santander and a balk from right-hander Tyler Mahle with runners on the corners — 19 straight Orioles were retired following a two-out single from Tyler Nevin in the second inning before an infield single from rookie catcher Adley Rutschman began the ninth.
Mahle didn’t give up a hit after the second inning, cruising through six frames while striking out seven and walking none.
“Look at his last month and a half, and that’s what he’s been doing,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We took really good at-bats in the first inning off him, and then we were pretty quiet after that. We had nothing going.”
Hyde credited Sulser as the “MVP” of the game, as he covered 3 2/3 innings to finish the game. The right-hander saved a bullpen that has been taxed heavily in recent weeks.
“That’s my role right now,” Sulser said. “That’s where I can add a lot of value, being able to come out just eat innings.”
The unorthodox play — and the homer to cap it — in the fifth were head-scratchingly painful for Baltimore, but so was the lack of hitting and the poor pitching.
Want to be an Orioles Insider? The Sun has you covered. Don’t miss any Orioles news, notes and info all baseball season and beyond.
>> Terrin Vavra made his first major league start, batting eighth as the designated hitter. Vavra, the Orioles’ No. 12 prospect according to Baseball America, went 0-for-3. He made his major league debut Friday night, serving as a pinch runner late in the Orioles’ 6-2 victory.
>> Right-hander Tyler Wells suffered a Grade 1 oblique strain, an MRI revealed, according to Hyde. The starting pitcher went on the injured list Thursday after departing his Wednesday appearance with lower left side discomfort. Hyde said the timeline was unclear for Wells, but with an innings limit already on the young pitcher, it remains to be seen when — or in what capacity — he will return this season.
>> The Orioles signed 11th-round pick Zack Showalter for $440,000, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Baltimore Sun, with $315,000 counting against the slot. Showalter, who has no relation to former Orioles manager and current New York Mets skipper Buck Showalter, is a high school pitcher from Florida. That leaves Baltimore with about $1.2 million left in its bonus pool to be spent without penalty.
Sunday, 1:40 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM