BALTIMORE – With the sparseness of fans at Camden Yards, an almost every-game occurrence in the Orioles’ rebuild, the boisterous fan club that made the trip down from New York could be heard on almost every out recorded by George Kirby.
Of course, they’d make their presence known in a packed visiting stadium.
They were particularly vocal and celebratory after each of his eight strikeouts.
But as the rookie right-hander walked off the mound following his sixth inning of shutout pitching, they serenaded his stellar performance and his pending first MLB win as only they knew how.
“Hip, hip… Jorge !!!”
“Hip, hip… Jorge !!!”
“Hip, hip… Jorge !!!”
With eight runs of support in the first three innings, but really only needing one given his performance, the Mariners’ top pitching prospect notched his first career big-league win in his team’s 10-0 rout of Baltimore.
“Great way to start the road trip,” manager Scott Servais said. “It was a nice way to get George his first win. He was outstanding. ”
On a deodorant-testing, shirt-stick-to-your-back Tuesday evening at Camden Yards, Kirby delivered his best outing in his brief big-league career to earn that much-awaited win. He pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits with a walk, a hit batter and eight strikeouts. He threw 94 pitches with 62 strikes. That included 11 swings and misses and 15 called strikes. He had just eight three-ball counts and didn’t allow a hit on any of them.
With his sister, his former coach at Elon University, several of his college teammates and a few other friends from his hometown of Rye, NY, leading the cheers, Kirby rewarded them for making the trip.
“This is a pretty awesome moment,” he said. “It’s something I will remember for a long time. It’s pretty cool. It’s great that they are continuing the support. So far they’ve been at every start. “
It was the sort of performance that had been building over his previous four starts.
“He was due for that first win,” Servais said. “Once he got going and got rolling after the first inning, the command came. His secondary pitches were really good today as well. ”
The only inning he allowed multiple base runners was the first inning. He hit Trey Mancini with one out and then issued a two-out walk to Austin Hays to bring the recently called up Adley Rutschman to the plate. Rated as the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, Rutschman is a switch-hitting catcher with power potential. Kirby disposed of him with nasty intent, throwing an unhittable slider to Rutschman’s back foot for a swinging strike three.
“He wasn’t real sharp in the first inning and oftentimes starters are most vulnerable in the first inning,” Servais said. “His slider has been huge for him in punching some guys out. He got Rutschman on that 3-2 slider to get out of the first and he kept going to it. ”
From there, Kirby found a rhythm and cruised through the next five innings despite allowing a base runner to reach in four of them.
“I just felt more comfortable,” Kirby said. “I started getting on top of my fastball better. I started to work better counts and not get behind. You’ve got to get ahead. ”
It was easy for Kirby to be in attack mode given the ridiculous run support, most of it coming in the first three innings. Facing a bullpen start from the Orioles, the Mariners racked up 13 hits on the night and led 8-0 when Kirby went to the mound in the third inning.
“We knew they were up against it with a bullpen game,” Servais said. “It’s nice to jump out early. Sometimes in bullpen games, it can get away from you, as the other team starts to get on a roll and they start matching up against you. ”
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Julio Rodriguez ripped a 384-foot double off the new and deeper left-field wall to score Ty France from first base. The ball would’ve been a homer in every other park in MLB.
Seattle opened it up in a three-run second inning that featured Taylor Trammell, driving in his first of four runs on a four-hit night with a ground ball off the second-base bag that went for an RBI double.
Seattle tacked on four more runs in the third inning that included a sac fly from Trammell and a laser of a two-run single from Cal Raleigh to left field. Ty France also added an RBI single.
Dylan Moore, Trammell and Raleigh – the 7-8-9 batters – combined for five hits, five runs scored, and seven RBI.
With Kirby carving up hitters and the Mariners leading by more than a touchdown for most of the game, the only drama came in the top of the eighth. Unhappy with a called third strike on an inside fastball, Rodriguez drew a line in the dirt where he thought the ball crossed. It resulted in an automatic ejection from plate umpire Lance Barrett.
“You can’t draw a line in the dirt that’s an automatic ejection,” Servais said. “He now knows.”
Rodriguez was stunned, saying “Seriously?” to Barrett when he was tossed.
“I swear to God, I didn’t know,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of baseball games everywhere and I’ve played in a lot of games and I’ve never seen anybody get thrown out for that.”
Servais had already pinch hit Mike Ford for France and was having Sam Haggerty pinch hit for JP Crawford to get his starter some rest. With Rodriguez ejected and Kyle Lewis unavailable to play, he had to get creative. He put backup catcher Luis Torrens, a former infielder, at second base for the last two innings.
“Before you know it, my catcher is playing second base,” Servais said.
It was a teachable moment to be sure.
“Julio learns,” Servais said. “He screws up some stuff once in a while, but as he says, ‘Rule of one. I only screw it up one time. ‘ So he’ll learn from that tonight. ”
The last Mariners player to be ejected for drawing a line was Ichiro on Sept. 26, 2009. He did it in Toronto on a called third strike by Brian Runge. Rodriguez found out that piece of history in the clubhouse. He was expecting a scolding text from his parents as well.
“That’s something that will never, ever happen again as long as I play baseball,” Rodriguez said emphatically. “I don’t want to get thrown out. I don’t want to disrespect anybody whenever I’m playing the game. It’s something I can say for sure will never happen again in my career. ”