BALTIMORE — Pick your favorite moment from the eighth inning. The clear choice is Rougned Odor’s game-deciding hit with the bases loaded — his first big moment in Baltimore. But maybe Robinson Chirinos’ 10-pitch walk is what got you going. (It’s what got the Orioles going, at least.) Or maybe even the beginning to Jorge López’s most dominant outing of the season.
No matter which moment you pick, the sheer idea of having options is a welcome sign for these Orioles, bitten drastically by strikeouts, bad luck and woes with runners in scoring position in the early stages of the season. But now they hope a big five-run eighth inning in what became a 5-0 shutout win over the Yankees at Camden Yards on Sunday is what can propel them back to positive returns.
It also doesn’t hurt that the series-clinching Easter win in front of 25,938 fans marked Baltimore’s first time shutting out New York since Sept. 3, 2016, and the series en masse just the second time since 2017 that the O’s won a home series against the Yankees.
“To be in there and to see the guys keep grinding out at-bats, Robbie having a massive two-out walk there, and finally getting to break through with runners in scoring position,” said Bruce Zimmermann, who led the way with five shutout innings. “I mean, that’s the kind of thing that’s gonna win us ballgames, and it’s exciting as hell.”
It was not just a welcome sign, but simply a positive first step. Before Odor’s go-ahead single, the Orioles were 7-for-83 with 37 strikeouts with runners in scoring position on the year. Part of that was competition, facing three consecutive postseason teams from 2021, but it was also a case of pressing too hard, the team has said.
No matter come Sunday evening. In the eighth inning, the O’s notched three consecutive two-out hits to blow the game open.
And it begs the question: How much of a pressure-alleviant can three straight swings of the bat provide?
“We haven’t had a ton of that in four years, honestly, to be able to put together at-bats like that throughout the game,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “That’s when you get really good. And you have nine guys be able to do that, that’s when you become special offensively.”
Sunday wasn’t always that way.
Baltimore was not not just kept at bay, but silenced by former Orioles pitcher Nestor Cortes though five innings. The lefty retired nine consecutive from the third into the sixth inning, when a leadoff single chased him from the game. Along the way, he struck out 12 — including each starter at least once — and twirled the first immaculate inning in the Majors this season, sitting down Anthony Santander, Ryan McKenna and Chirinos in succession in the fourth.
But it took just a nibble to be able to ultimately feast. A former Yankee in Chirinos set the table, and another former Yank in Odor highlighted the day. By the time Kelvin Gutiérrez and Jorge Mateo — another former Yankee — provided the cushion, situational hitting woes had morphed to fodder for box scores past.
“I know when you’re not doing good, you want to get a hit, you want to chase that hit,” Chirinos said. “And I think if we go back to do what we did in the eighth inning, to put quality at-bats together, we’re going to be fine.”
Breeding confidence are the situations the Orioles have found themselves in, consistently giving themselves a chance to win against perennial playoff teams. Their pitching has now combined for two shutouts in the first nine games, holding the vaunted Yankees scoreless in 26 of the 29 innings they pitched this weekend. Baltimore’s bats have noticed, and the hope, as a clubhouse, is to find results in both aspects in unison.
“I think if we keep pitching the way we’ve been pitching, we’re gonna win a lot of games,” Chirinos said. “This offense is going to get hot.”