BALTIMORE — One of the more thrilling moments of the season turned into one of the Orioles’ biggest nightmares in a matter of 15 minutes on Friday night.
One strike away from a league-leading 34th save after Gunnar Henderson’s dramatic go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, All-Star closer Felix Bautista instead left the game with a right arm injury, leaving Baltimore shellshocked despite completing a 5-4 comeback win over Colorado. Soon after head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and manager Brandon Hyde rushed to the mound after Bautista spun around awkwardly and appeared to be in discomfort after delivering a 102.3-mph pitch, the 6-foot-8, 285-pound hurler walked to the dugout without even attempting a practice pitch as an announced crowd of 28,872 that had been anticipating the final strike moments earlier fell quiet.
“Bautista left the game there with some arm discomfort. He’s still being checked out,” said Hyde, who added that the 28-year-old felt “good” before the game and before the final pitch he threw. “I’m not going to discuss it any further than that. We’re going to get a bunch of tests and see how it is.”
Left-hander Danny Coulombe entered the game and needed only one pitch to record the game-ending strikeout of pinch hitter Michael Toglia, but that save was supposed to go to Bautista and first-place Baltimore was supposed to be feeling great about moving three games ahead of Tampa Bay in the AL East after the Rays lost to the New York Yankees on Friday. Instead, the Orioles will now be bracing for updates on the man who’s dominated the ninth inning all season.
There’s no denying the importance of Bautista to the Orioles’ success as he’s pitched to a remarkable 1.48 ERA in 61 innings. The right-hander has struck out 110 batters — averaging an incredible 16.2 strikeouts per nine frames — while walking only 26 this season.
On Thursday night, Bautista recorded his 33rd save of the season pitching a perfect ninth inning against Toronto, needing just 10 pitches. The apparent injury came on his 10th pitch of the inning on Friday.
“He’s been our closer all year. He’s been electric for us,” starting pitcher Cole Irvin said. “I know the fans love him, and you want one of your best guys to still be pitching for you. Hopefully, it’s nothing negative and maybe he just needs a little bit of time. But I don’t know what’s going to happen, don’t know what to expect, so just praying for him. That’s the biggest thing and all we can do right now.
“He’s been huge for us. And honestly, he’d have my Cy Young vote. He’s been that good. It’s been a lot of fun to have him, so hopefully he comes back solid.”
The Orioles are giving away Bautista bobbleheads to the first 20,000 fans age 15 and over attending Saturday’s game, adding another cruel wrinkle to the timing of his injury. With 34 games to go, AL-leading Baltimore is on track to return to the postseason for the first time since 2016 and remains on pace to win 100 games for the first time since 1980.