ST. LOUIS — The failure may have been what Kyle Bradish needed all along. He was cruising, having retired 11 consecutive Cardinals batters, five via strikeout, entering the sixth inning. A typically rambunctious Busch Stadium was silenced by a rookie making his first start away from his home ballpark.
And then Bradish saw two balls sail out of the reach of Cedric Mullins, the second of which became an inside-the-park home run.
Suddenly, 33,649 people in St. Louis were sent into a tizzy and called Harrison Bader for a curtain call.
That might have been their biggest mistake.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is really loud,’” Bradish said later, flashing a smile. “ … [They] woke me back up.”
Bradish rebounded to strike out the next three batters he faced to end the inning, an emphatic punctuation on a career night for myriad reasons. They were three of 11 strikeouts he compiled over seven innings amid the Orioles’ 5-3 victory over the Cardinals on Tuesday night, historic in that he joined Stephen Strasburg and his legendary debut as just the second pitcher in MLB history to have an 11-strikeout performance with no walks within the first three starts of his career.
But it was, most importantly, the first win of Bradish’s Major League career.
“Wow,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde before pausing. “Very impressed. … Definitely showed some toughness. That inning for a young player — it could unravel quickly. To show the composure he did and come back and punch out the next three, that was a big league effort.”
Bradish’s teammates had an alternative way to thank him for a rather restful night.
“I smelled some mayo, some barbecue sauce,” said Bradish, ultimately showered from his laundry-cart shower. “There was milk somewhere, some blueberries and strawberries.”
But arguably more important than what Bradish provided in the short-term was what it signaled in the long-term.
Much of that is centered around himself, the first prospect to be called up in this next wave of the Orioles’ rebuild. Every start he makes this season will be under an intense microscope, a litmus test for the infusion of talent executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has infused into the pipeline.
Early results are wholly promising.
“Expect more of that,” said Tyler Nevin, who homered Tuesday after spending most of last season at Triple-A with Bradish, “because I’ve seen that plenty of times.”
Outside just himself, important Tuesday was what Bradish’s night teased. By pure pedigree standards, he’s the third-best pitching prospect the Orioles are expected to debut this season, behind Grayson Rodriguez (also the top pitching prospect in baseball) and D.L. Hall (O’s No. 5 prospect), time and place to be determined.
Bradish entered the year as the club’s No. 10 prospect. And it was him who became the first Oriole rookie to collect at least 11 strikeouts in an outing since Wei-Yin Chen in 2012.
“He’s got Major League starter stuff,” Hyde said. “It’s really good. … Tough place to pitch, tough environment, and he answered the bell.”
Bradish’s stuff was not just serviceable Tuesday night but salivating. He drew the constant, watchful eye of the famed Twitter account Pitching Ninja with every strikeout he amassed. He reared his velocity up to 98 mph — the fastest pitch of his young career — and induced a gaudy nine whiffs on his slider, as well as 13 called strikes on his fastball.
He faced a lineup boasting perennial MVP candidates and dark-horse ones at that. Against those — Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill — he struck them out five times and leadoff hitter Tommy Edman thrice.
“Difficult?” Bradish said. “No. They’re a really good team, a lot of veterans that have been staples in this league for a while. … You always want to go against the best competition to groom yourself.”
Bradish has long sought out those matchups, a confidence he gave a lens into at Spring Training against the Yankees’ and Phillies’ varsity lineups. He’s emerging as a stalwart in an Orioles rotation, surprising as any in the early going of this season, riding four consecutive quality starts thanks to his efforts Tuesday.
But it’s not just what he does for 2022 — it’s about what he’s showcasing for the next wave of competitive Orioles baseball.
“I can see him,” Nevin said, “I can see he wants that ball.”