Baltimore Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins socked a go-ahead three-run dinger in the second inning of Friday’s home loss to the Texas Rangers, in a game with exactly zero big-picture significance and narrative intrigue. All the same, Mullins’s homer was a nice moment: With his 30th big fly of the season, Mullins became the first Orioles player in 121 seasons to record 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season, and just the 44th player in MLB history to go for 30 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and 30 doubles. If you want to get even more specific, Mullins became just the 12th player ever to hit 35 doubles, 30 dingers, and five triples, and swipe 30 bags, although if you continue scraping for specificity beyond that I’m afraid you will be on your own, as I personally hope to avoid becoming the Lawnmower Man.
It’s fitting that the big moment happened on a Friday night, the attention dead-zone, the time of news dumps. The Orioles are the very quintessence of irrelevance these days, and Mullins, who was a 13th-round pick for the O’s back in 2015, is still a long way from true breakthrough stardom. The Orioles have been unhurriedly and, ah, frugally rooting around for the core of a competitive outfit for going on five years now, and will continue to do so for as long as they can get away with it. In a sport that offers more incentives than consequences for sustained losing, and with a balance sheet long fattened up and subsidized by one of the shadiest local television rights deals in the history of the medium, there’s a non-zero chance that timeframe will stretch off into infinity. Mullins, at 26 years of age, will not reach his first season of arbitration eligibility until 2023, and will not taste unrestricted free agency until his age-31 season. Toiling in obscurity without end would suck shit, but on the other hand it must be said that Baltimore has tremendous blue crabs.
Short- and long-term competitive prospects aside, Mullins is doing some very good shit for the Orioles. He’s just a very fun baseball player to watch, a 5-foot-9 bundle of can-do working his ass off at all times to lift the shit-show around him. This, from earlier in September, was one of the very best defensive plays of the year, though of course it came in another losing effort:
Manager Brandon Hyde gushed after Friday’s game about his best player’s “power, speed, takes great at-bats, the bunt tool, everything,” and acknowledged the “journey that he’s gone through and adversity” to make it to this moment. Mullins gave up on switch-hitting for the first time in his baseball career this regular season; he was knocked back to Double-A as recently as 2019 with a horrifying .094 batting average and .337 OPS. This season was considered a make-or-break deal at the outset, with Mullins in the category of players who need an overhaul, and for that overhaul to work, in order to salvage a chance at sticking in the majors. Now he’s an All-Star with a place in baseball’s history books. That’s cool! Mullins is super cool.
Fans chanted “Cedric!” during a nice curtain call after his historic dinger Friday night. It got better: In the top of the third, his O’s teammates lingered in the dugout and bought him a few happy moments alone with the Baltimore faithful, who under radically different circumstances might’ve been present in numbers sufficient to really honor the occasion.
It was a very neat moment, one that Mullins described as “awesome and surreal,” but it presents an image of Orioles baseball in 2021 that is almost a little too on the nose. One of baseball’s very happiest long-shot individual stories, alone on a field, raising his cap in gratitude to an announced crowd of 7,935 fans in the echoey gloom of an iconic baseball stadium all but packed up and mothballed for another winter of waiting for some reason to come alive. The O’s have youths in the pipeline, and this season has not been without glimpses of hope. It’ll be up to the suits to decide what to make of it, and whether feats of this sort deserve a baseball operation worthy of them.