Unlikely hero Urrutia provides feel-good moment for Orioles

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BALTIMORE — Henry Urrutia may never hit another home run and the Orioles still may not qualify for the playoffs despite his dramatic game-winning blast in a 5-4 win over the New York Mets on Wednesday.

But it was a moment to savor as the 28-year-old Cuban outfielder became the fifth player in franchise history to club a walk-off shot for his first major league homer, joining Chris Hoiles (1990), Dave Criscione (1977), Jim Hardin (1969), and Merv Rettenmund (1968) in Orioles lore. Of that group, Criscione became one of the great one-hit wonders in club history in hitting a game-winning homer against Milwaukee despite receiving only 10 plate appearances in his major league career.

If we’re being honest, Wednesday was more likely to be Urrutia’s 15 minutes of fame rather than the start of a long run as the Orioles’ left fielder, but it was easy to feel good for a man who defected from Cuba in 2011 and eventually signed with the Orioles. After a disappointing run that included 58 major league plate appearances in 2013, Urrutia faded from the Orioles’ radar with an injury-riddled 2014 at Triple-A Norfolk and was having a solid but unspectacular season with the Tides before being recalled last weekend.

With Urrutia frequently being criticized for his inability to consistently pull the ball, there was something fitting about the left-handed hitter sending one into the left-field seats on a 1-2 pitch from Carlos Torres to give the Orioles their third walk-off victory of the homestand. As if the congratulatory pie to the face from Adam Jones wasn’t enough, Urrutia was later greeted in the hallway outside the Orioles clubhouse by a Mets fan who had come away with the home run ball.

Emotional as he described what it meant to receive the ball, Urrutia revealed he plans to share the souvenir with his 16-month old son, also named Henry Alexander.

“Wow, that’s the best gift for me tonight,” said Urrutia as he paused to compose himself. “Now, I can give that baseball to my son, and my son one day can say, ‘This is the first homer for my dad in the big leagues.'”

For the Orioles, Urrutia’s homer helped them to another win in a long season now having 43 contests remaining. But the accomplishment meant more to a man described as having high character and a good work ethic by countless members of the organization.

The mild-mannered Urrutia even apologized for the quality of his English — which is really quite good — during his post-game interview, admitting he was nervous while reflecting on his big moment.

In a performance-driven business where we frequently lose sight of the human beings behind the numbers, fans could not only enjoy a win for the Orioles, but they could recognize and celebrate the top moment of a young man’s career.

Regardless of whether it ultimately leads to anything else for him or the Orioles.