The ball sailed into right field, carrying but not quite deep enough. Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Josh Lowe camped under it, prepared to catch what could prove to be the last fly ball at Camden Yards of Trey Mancini’s Orioles tenure.
Then, the sun peeked out from the clouds in Baltimore’s afternoon sky, and Lowe lost sight of the ball. It caromed off his left cheek toward the first base line, and off Mancini went. On base in front of Baltimore’s longest-tenured player, Austin Hays wheeled his left arm, begging Mancini to continue onward. He did, racing home for the first inside-the-park home run at Oriole Park in nearly 11 years.
Mancini’s hustle gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead they held onto to take three of four games from Tampa Bay in a key series before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Mancini, in the final guaranteed year of his contract, is a candidate to be dealt, even with the victory keeping the Orioles (50-49) in playoff contention.
“I hope I get to stick around and still be a part of this team,” Mancini said afterward in the Orioles’ clubhouse, sweat still dripping down his forehead from his 360-foot sprint. “But I understand how the business works and I don’t really have a say in it. I’m just gonna go out there every day and keep playing for this team and the name across my chest because I love the city and the team and all of these guys in here. It’s just been such a fun year.”
An announced crowd of 16,784 began to chant his name, recognizing a player who has endured so much during his time with Baltimore. The lone holdover from their most recent playoff team, Mancini missed the 2020 season undergoing 12 rounds of biweekly chemotherapy treatments for stage 3 colon cancer, then returned in 2021 to be deemed baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year by both the league and his peers.
“The perseverance, toughness, grind, put any sort of those adjectives out there, he’s shown that,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “None of us know what he went through exactly. None of us felt what he did, and to go through chemotherapy and to play baseball a year later in the major leagues, that’s unbelievable.”
During that absence, Mancini gained a stronger appreciation for how Orioles teenage superfan Mo Gaba handled his lifelong cancer battle with such positivity. The pair was already close before Mancini joined him in facing the disease. Thursday marked the second straight year the Orioles honored Mo on the anniversary of his death. Mancini homered in both games after catching an honorary first pitch from Mo’s mother, Sonsy, each time.
“I had some help from somebody,” Mancini said, wearing a #MoStrong T-shirt with a bobblehead of Mo in his locker. “That was absolutely insane. I’d like to thank Mo. He had a hand in it. That was crazy.”
Mancini, serving as Baltimore’s designated hitter, was in the dugout tunnel putting his equipment away when rookie infielder Tyler Nevin came to let him know of the chants. Mancini stepped onto the field, patting his hand over his heart and raising an arm to the crowd giving him a lengthy ovation.
Mancini recalled how welcoming fans were at Aberdeen, then the Orioles’ short-season affiliate, when he first joined the organization as an eighth-round pick out of the 2013 draft. In his eyes, Thursday marked a continuation.
“I have no idea what the next few days bring,” Mancini said. “But I wanted to make sure to soak in every moment today just in case this was it.”
Mancini’s timely fly ball provided two key insurance runs on a day the Orioles’ bullpen was thin. Hays had scored the game’s first run in the third inning when he was hit by a pitch, stole second and came home on an Anthony Santander double. Veteran starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, a trade candidate himself, worked to make that lone run enough, coming an out shy of what would’ve been Baltimore’s first six-inning start in 11 games. No other Orioles starter has worked that deep into a game since July 6.
Cionel Pérez retired Randy Arozarena to strand two of Lyles’ base runners, then worked a clean seventh. Bryan Baker put two on with two outs in the eighth, prompting Hyde to call on Félix Bautista with typical closer Jorge López unavailable after pitching the past two days. Bautista struck out Arozarena on three pitches to send the Orioles to the bottom of the eighth with a 1-0 lead.
That set the stage for Mancini’s home run. Hays doubled with one out, then Mancini fell behind 0-2 against former Orioles reliever Shawn Armstrong. The third pitch was lofted to right, where it met Lowe’s face and rolled toward the right field corner. As center fielder Roman Quinn tracked down the ball in Lowe’s stead, Mancini moved as fast as he could.
As he approached third base, two thoughts went through his head: “I hope that they ruled it a hit,” and “You gotta get home on this.” He went 2-for-2, sliding into home ahead of Quinn’s throw. Mancini’s pop-up slide caused him to bump into Rays catcher René Pinto and stumble backward as he tried to signal safe, ever awkward on the bases. He said it was his first true inside-the-park home run, not counting childhood games where the ball was thrown wildly.
“I know he’s exhausted,” Hyde quipped after.
Once the official scorer ruled it in an inside-the-park homer rather than an error on Lowe, outfielder Ryan McKenna placed the Orioles’ home run chain around Mancini’s neck. It could prove to be the last time he wears it.
“However things go down next few days, if this is the last time, then no one else deserves it more than him,” Lyles said. “Great person, great teammate. Baltimore, if this is it, they have been very lucky to have him.”
Bautista struck out two in a clean ninth to push the Orioles back above .500. They have four games, all against losing clubs, left before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline. Their performance in those games — three in Cincinnati and one opposite the Texas Rangers — could shift the front office’s approach to that decision period, which could see Baltimore move Lyles, Santander, López and others along with Mancini. There are no guarantees the Orioles trade Mancini, even if Thursday provided a shining bow on his time at Camden Yards.
“What a way to go out, if he’s going out,” Hyde said. “I’d like to manage him for the next 10 years. He’s fun to manage. Whatever team he’s on — who knows what’s going to happen in this game? Who knows what’s going to happen in the next six days? But yeah, any manager would love to manage Trey.”
Friday, 6:40 p.m.
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