For 162 games, the Baltimore Orioles were the toast of the American League, a flotilla of young talent leading a turbo-charged rebuild that took the team from 110 losses to 101 wins and an AL East title in the span of three years. Hosting its first postseason game in nearly a decade, Camden Yards had the air of a party when Game 1 of this ALDS got underway on Saturday — this was the team of the future, and the future was now. By the end of the weekend, things felt more like a funeral.
After holding on for a gritty 3-2 win in the opener, the Texas Rangers left no doubt in Game 2, chasing ballyhooed Baltimore rookie Grayson Rodriguez after just five outs and racking up nine runs in the first three innings en route to an 11-8 win that puts them squarely in control of this series headed back to Globe Life Park.
Just a week ago, the Rangers were all but left for dead after blowing the AL West on the regular season’s final weekend. But they’ve refused to flinch over four straight road wins in October, and they looked much more like the league’s top seed than the O’s did this weekend. Baltimore actually struck first in Game 2: Rodriguez was amped up in his playoff debut, touching 100 mph on his opening pitch, and after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first a two-run single from Aaron Hicks opened the scoring for the O’s in the bottom half.
And then the wheels very quickly came off. The Rangers have as much lineup depth as anyone this side of Atlanta, and they put it on display on Sunday, grinding out tough at-bat after tough at-bat while never allowing Rodriguez an easy landing spot throughout what would be a very brief outing. Texas simply refused to expand the zone, waiting and waiting deep into counts until eventually the rookie would make a mistake: Nathaniel Lowe led off the top of the second with a walk — one of four the Rangers worked against Rodriguez in less than two innings — and after a Josh Jung single, Leody Taveras tied the game with a double into the left-center gap.
Leody Taveras has been this team’s unsung hero throughout the postseason. pic.twitter.com/SusT8RI23e— Michael Bier (@MichaelJBier) October 8, 2023
Taveras is a great example of what makes this Texas team so hard to beat when it’s firing on all cylinders. Known more for his defense in center field, the switch-hitter consistently hits ninth. And yet, he’s also a guy who was once upon a time one of the most highly-regarded prospects in baseball, capable of taking a 98-mph fastball the other way for an extra-base hit. For a lot of teams, he’d be a table-setter; for the Rangers, he’s the guy you desperately need to get out before you get to the real heart of their offensive meat grinder.
That meat grinder kept on doing its thing, with a walk from Corey Seager — the shortstop finished with five in six at-bats on Sunday — and RBI singles from Adolis Garcia and Jonah Heim upping Texas’ lead to 5-2 and chasing Rodriguez from the game.
For the second straight day, Texas’ approach at the plate got them into the underbelly of Baltimore’s bullpen early. And for the second straight day, the Rangers wasted no time taking advantage. Bryan Baker walked the bases loaded — you might be noticing a theme here — to bring up Mitch Garver against righty Jacob Webb with the bases loaded. Webb fell behind in the count, and with nowhere to put the Rangers DH, you can probably guess what happened next.
From there, it was largely academic. The O’s deserve credit for not laying down: Baltimore chipped away with two runs in the fourth and another in the fifth, ending Jordan Montgomery’s day after four innings after his stellar Wild Card start against the Rays, but every time they had a chance to really make things hairy, Texas found a way to shut the door. Bruce Bochy didn’t even have to use his main bullpen guns, either: Lefty Cody Bradford fired 3.2 shutout innings with just three hits allowed, calming things down the Orioles got back to within 10-5. Even when Aaron Hicks took Jose Leclerc deep for a three-run homer with one out in the bottom of the ninth, things felt more or less under wraps.
It's not over yet... Aaron Hicks goes yard to make it a 3-run game in the 9th— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 8, 2023
: FS1 pic.twitter.com/GcGGOys3ex
It’s the kind of performance that Baltimore could’ve desperately used from its own relief arms, but the bullpen edge the Orioles thought they’d be taking into October slowly evaporated down the stretch between Felix Bautista’s UCL injury and regression from guys like Danny Coulombe, Shintaro Fujinami and Yennier Cano. Really, if there’s a theme of the weekend, it’s that Texas played the kind of baseball that the O’s used to overcome a no-name rotation and win a division title in the regular season. That formula has broken down over the past couple of games, though, and now they have to hit the road to try and keep their dream season alive in Game 3 on Tuesday night — with presumptive starter John Means unavailable due to elbow soreness. It’s unclear as of yet who Baltimore will be sending to the mound, but with Rangers righty Nathan Eovaldi on the other side, this feel-good story will have its work cut out for it.