Shintaro Fujinami hadn’t been trusted to pitch in high-leverage situations in more than two weeks.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde had no choice Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Angels.
After using six arms out of his bullpen who blew two late leads, Hyde was forced to bring in the volatile reliever with a one-run advantage in the 10th inning, as All-Stars Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano were unavailable — the former due to injury, the latter because of workload.
The Japanese right-hander stranded the automatic runner, striking out Nolan Schanuel to end the game and hand Baltimore a 5-4 win.
“Our man, Fuji. That’s the stuff we’re looking for right there,” Hyde said. “Hopefully that can get him going a little bit, because that was unbelievable pitching there in the 10th inning.”
Fujinami, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in July, had the chance to record his second save of the season thanks to Jordan Westburg, whose RBI groundout scored zombie runner Austin Hays in the top half of the 10th.
An inning earlier, pinch hitters Adam Frazier and Ryan O’Hearn teamed up to tie the game with a one-out double and an RBI single, respectively. Ryan Mountcastle’s go-ahead single in the ninth (one that second baseman Brandon Drury didn’t even move for) was wiped away in the bottom half when Mickey Moniak tied the game and sent it to extras with a single off DL Hall, who was one strike away from his second career save.
The victory is the Orioles’ fourth in a row and 44th in come-from-behind fashion this season, maintaining their 3 1/2-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the American League. It’s their first win this year in which they trailed entering the ninth inning in 42 tries.
After going 18-9 in August, Baltimore is 4-1 to begin a critical September that will determine whether it can win the AL East for the first time since 2014. At 87-51, the Orioles are on pace to win 102 games for the first time since 1979.
“It’s been fun. I don’t think anyone’s worried about the month,” O’Hearn said. “You try not to focus on how many games are left or what the Rays are doing or what anyone else is doing. We’re just focusing on ourselves.”
Fujinami’s first pitch was nowhere close to the strike zone — an insignificant hiccup for most pitchers, but sometimes a sign of more erratic offerings to come for Fujinami. But he needed just nine more pitches, eight of which were strikes, to retire the three left-handed batters he faced in order.
“Every time he steps out there and has a good one or a clean one, it’s definitely a confidence builder for him and for us, as well,” said starter Dean Kremer, who pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
He got Eduardo Escobar to ground out on a 98.7 mph fastball, threw four straight 100 mph heaters before striking out Trey Cabbage on a 99.9 mph one and then struck out Schanuel on three pitches, slamming the door with a 93.8 mph splitter below the zone.
“He’s got electric stuff,” O’Hearn said. “He’s got the stuff and the ability to be a huge piece for us moving down the stretch. I think tonight only built some confidence for him. We need Fuji to be nasty, and he was tonight. And it was awesome.”
“The stuff is there,” Hyde said. “He’s throwing 101 [mph], and that last split, the punchout to end the game, that’s not normal. That’s next level.”
The 29-year-old was needed to come through in the clutch, however, because the other members of the bullpen didn’t. Since Bautista’s injury Aug. 25, the Orioles’ relievers were getting by just fine, posting the fifth-best bullpen ERA in the majors at 3.03 entering Tuesday.
However, replacing a closer — one as dominant as Bautista, no less — is never easy. It’s not just the ninth inning that is affected but rather the entire bullpen, adding more stress and pushing relievers into unfamiliar situations.
After Cionel Pérez pitched a scoreless inning to follow Kremer, the next four relievers combined to allow four runs, surrendering a 2-0 lead in the seventh and a 4-3 advantage in the ninth. Jorge López, the club’s newest bullpen addition, got the final out of the sixth but gave up two runs in the seventh — the first by himself on a double by Drury, the second by Danny Coulombe on a single by Mike Moustakas.
Former Angel Jacob Webb then gave up a go-ahead single to Cabbage in the eighth before Hall’s blown save the next inning.
“Our bullpen, we’re going to have nights where we’re not perfect,” Hyde said.
But Fujinami was there in the 10th to pick up the pieces.
“It’s obviously very tough that we don’t have Bautista right now, but everybody steps up and do our job,” Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Kamada.
“Obviously, we have Cano, too, and other guys. Everybody’s a good pitcher, but today I happened to pitch in the 10th inning, a save situation. If I have to throw, I’ll do my job, but everybody can do that same job.”
Hours before Fujinami came through in extras, Jorge Mateo’s speed sparked the Orioles’ two-run third inning. Starting at shortstop with left-hander Reid Detmers on the mound for the Angels (64-75), Mateo hit a one-out single, stole second with ease for his 27th swipe of the season and sprinted home on Adley Rutschman’s single for the game’s first run. Mountcastle then singled home Rutschman to double the Orioles’ advantage.
Kremer wasn’t as sharp as he’s been recently, ending his streak of quality starts at four against an Angels lineup without injured stars Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout. He scattered four hits and three walks — just his fourth time issuing three or more free passes in 28 starts — while striking out five to lower his ERA to 4.07.
With a lefty starting for Los Angeles, O’Hearn and Frazier spent most of the game in the batting cage preparing for potential pinch-hit opportunities against right-handed relievers. It wasn’t their first time this season coming off the bench to contribute, and O’Hearn said they prepare as if it won’t be their last, either.
“We care, a lot,” he said. “We want to win. We want to win the division. We love each other. We play for each other. We trust each other. It’s not just me down there practicing and trying to get ready for every inning. It’s every guy on the bench, all four guys on the bench down there, are getting ready to hit to potentially impact the game.”
Around the horn
- Right-hander Austin Voth cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles said. Voth was designated for assignment Sunday to make room on the 28-man roster for Jorge López. Voth had a 5.19 ERA in 34 2/3 innings out of Baltimore’s bullpen this season after excelling in 2022 as a starter.
- Logan Gillaspie, a right-hander the Orioles designated for assignment Saturday to make room for López on the 40-man roster, was claimed off waivers Monday by the Boston Red Sox. Gillaspie had a 6.00 ERA in nine innings as a reliever who often took the shuttle from Norfolk to Baltimore.
- Tyler Wells pitched Tuesday for the first time since Aug. 25. In relief for the Tides, the right-hander allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning, giving up one hit and walking two. He averaged 94.8 mph on his fastball — topping out at 95.7 mph — for velocity closer to what he had as a reliever in 2021.
- Jackson Holliday made his Triple-A debut Tuesday. The 19-year-old went 1-for-4 with a double, a run and a walk in the Tides’ 9-4 loss. Norfolk’s lineup featured the Orioles’ Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 11 prospects in Holliday, Colton Cowser, Coby Mayo, Heston Kjerstad and Connor Norby.
Orioles at Angels
Wednesday, 9:38 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM