Kim to the rescue
O’s can’t expect help from outside in postseason bid 2-run pinch HR in 9th tightens wild-card race
If the Orioles think they’re going to get any outside help in their quest to hold onto a wildcard playoff berth, they’ve got another think coming.
They’re trying to both overtake the Toronto Blue Jays and hold off the Detroit Tigers, who are just one game out of the second wild-card spot and appear to have an amazingly smooth path to the postseason. AL WILD-CARD STANDINGS Toronto 87-71 +1 Orioles 86-72 — Detroit 85-73 1 Seattle 84-74 2 Houston 83-76 31⁄ Through Wednesday
TORONTO — Hyun Soo Kim has hit 148 career home runs, all but six in the Korean Baseball Organization, but his two-run pinchhit homer in the top of the ninth inning at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night — a blast that gave the reeling Orioles a much-needed 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays — was without a doubt the biggest of them all.
“First,” Kim said through interpreter Danny Lee when asked where it ranked. “It’s No. 1. … No. 1.”
Kim — the South Korean import whose
spring training struggles had the Orioles trying to send him to the minors to open the year — might have saved the Orioles’ season by coming off the bench and giving his team the clutch hit it was missing through its first 17 innings in Toronto with its postseason hopes on the line.
He saw Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna’s entire arsenal — fastballs, changeups, sinkers and sliders — in a nine-pitch at-bat that he extended with four foul balls before sending a full-count, 95-mph fastball over the rightfield wall to silence an announced crowd of 44,668.
“I think that’s what it’s all about,” said right fielder Mark Trumbo, whose 46th homer of the season represented the Orioles’ only run going into the ninth. “I think everyone in the dugout was going nuts. Obviously, that was a really hard-fought win, but especially to be him. That was great. … This is a very tough place to play. The fans, they’re always giving it to you and they’re very passionate. Sometimes it’s tough to get something going, but a moment like that, that was big for us.”
Coming off the bench has been an adjustment for Kim, who became known as Korea’s Ironman for playing every day. Now, he’s mostly used against right-handed pitching. But he’s excelled off the bench, going 6-for-9 with two walks in 11 appearances as a pinch hitter.
“There’s no secret as to why I’ve been so successful pinch hitting,” Kim said. “I’m just happy I’m put into that situation because it’s always clutch situations. So I’m enjoying and I’m doing well with it. … I really try to be ready when I have to hit. That helps me a lot.”
A loss Wednesday would have put a dagger in the Orioles’ postseason hopes, especially with both teams chasing them having favorable schedules down the stretch. But Kim’s homer provided an injection of life into an Orioles team that had fallen flat in Toronto.
“It was big,” right-hander Chris Tillman said of the win. “I think that could push a team a long way in wins. It was a big team win, and I think everyone played a part in it. … It was priceless, [Kim] coming in the dugout with big smile on his face. Not a better guy for that to happen to.”
The win kept the Orioles one game ahead of the Detroit Tigers — who moments before Kim’s homer took the lead on Miguel Cabrera’s three-run homer and eventually won — for the second AL wild-card spot with four games to play. The Seattle Mariners are two games back. The victory also put the Orioles one game behind Toronto for the first wild card.
“It’s been a while, not just this year,” manager Buck Showalter said of the team’s resilience. “It’s been going on for a while. … I know our city and our organization are proud of that type of baseball. We’re trying to continue to play it, just like Toronto has.”
The Orioles (86-72) trailed throughout, spoiling scoring opportunities throughout the night.
They woke up late. Trumbo’s homer in the eighth off Jason Grilli cut the gap to one.
Jonathan Schoop looped a oneout single to right in the ninth, and pinch runner Michael Bourn stole second base, before Kim came to the plate to pinch hit for Nolan Reimold.
The Orioles haven’t been good against lefties all season, and Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano held them scoreless for 61⁄ innings, striking out 10 batters and giving Toronto back-to-back 10-strikeout outings from its starters for the first time in more than five years.
The Orioles had their chances earlier in the game. They put their first two batters on base in the fourth on singles by Adam Jones and Chris Davis, but Liriano then struck out the Orioles’ 3-4-5 hitters — Manny Machado, Trumbo and Trey Mancini.
They loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, but Davis struck out looking on a curveball at the letters to end that inning.
And in the seventh, the Orioles had two on with one out, chasing Liriano from the game, but lefthander Brett Cecil struck out Reimold and received a fine defensive play from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on Jones’ grounder in the hole to end the inning.
After Trumbo’s homer in the eighth, pinch hitter Pedro Alvarez doubled, but Matt Wieters flied out to left to strand the potential tying run in scoring position.
Tillman allowed just two runs, one earned, over 52⁄ innings.
The bullpen accounted for 31⁄ 1/3 scoreless innings, no out more important than left-hander Brian Duensing’s strikeout of Melvin Upton Jr. with the bases loaded in the eighth. Zach Britton retired the Blue Jays in order in the ninth, striking out two for his 47th save to remain perfect on the season.
Hyun Soo Kim, right, is congratulated by Manny Machado after hitting a two-run homer off Roberto Osuna with one out in the ninth.
Mark Trumbo, right, is congratulated by Pedro Alvarez after homering to left field off reliever Jason Grilli with two out in the eighth to cut the Blue Jays’ lead to 2-1. Trumbo leads the majors with 46 homers.