스포츠토토Last week, the Baltimore Orioles finally caught up to the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays. At one point, the gap was quite large, but it disappeared as the two teams went back and forth in July. Baltimore took a 3-1 series lead in a four-game series against the “best of the best” Tampa Bay.
With neither team able to back down, the series was all about getting off to a good start. In fact, Game 1 was a close game that went into overtime. In that game, Baltimore edged Tampa Bay by one point. Baltimore dropped Game 2, but bounced back to win Games 3 and 4. All four games of the series were decided by three points or less.
Game 1: Baltimore 4-3 Tampa Bay [10 innings].
Game 2: Baltimore 0-3 Tampa Bay
Game 3: Baltimore 6-5 Tampa Bay
Game 4: Baltimore 5-3 Tampa Bay
In Game 1, Baltimore started the top of the 10th inning of extra innings with a runner on second base under the penalty rule. Normally, the away team batting first does not attempt to bunt with a runner on second base. Scoring a run doesn’t guarantee a win. However, Baltimore focused on advancing the runner from second to third on a bunt by Adam Frazier.
After Frazier’s sacrifice bunt was successful, Baltimore’s next batter, Colton Kauser, hit a sacrifice fly to bring in a runner from third. However, no further runs were scored. Nevertheless, the Baltimore dugout had a “one run is enough” attitude. That’s because of closer Felix Batista.
After coming on in the bottom of the ninth and retiring the side in order on nine pitches, Batista came on in the top of the tenth. Again, he started with a runner on second base. Batista looked shaky as he walked the first batter, Luke Reilly, on a fastball. But the Baltimore players remained calm. They had faith in Batista.
Batista repaid the faith. He struck out Randy Arosarena and then got Brandon Lau to fly out to end the game. The pitch count in the 10th inning was six, one less than in the 9th.
After picking up the win in Game 1, Batista held one-run and two-run leads in the third and fourth innings, respectively. In the fourth, Tampa Bay offered some resistance (two hits), but he retired all three batters he faced. Batista’s series record is 3-1 with two saves, four scoreless innings and eight strikeouts. If this were the postseason, he would have been named Series MVP.
Batista’s role in Baltimore this season has been essential. They’ve won so many games by playing solid baseball with a strong bullpen. If the pitcher responsible for getting the final out wasn’t up to the task, the Orioles would have been lost early on. Batista’s anchoring of the bullpen has allowed other bullpen arms to keep their jobs.
Just two years ago, Batista was not on a major league mound. Going back even further, in 2015, the 20-year-old was released by the team. It was a situation that is hard to imagine now.
Originally, Batista was discovered by the Miami Marlins. They recognised his talent and signed him to a contract. However, they quickly waived him when he failed to adapt in the rookie league. In the Dominican Summer League, Batista pitched 12⅓ innings with 17 earned runs and 20 strikeouts. In 2015, Batista took a break from baseball and spent time at home.
He didn’t play baseball, but he didn’t put it out of his mind. That year, he was watching a beauty pageant in the Dominican Republic with his mother, according to the Baltimore Sun. The winner of the pageant, Clarissa Molina, said in her acceptance speech, “If you want a dream, you have to fight for it. That’s how dreams come true.” “That’s the advice you need most right now,” she told a pensive Batista.
Re-motivated, Batista returned to baseball. With three options, he chose to join Baltimore. The Orioles patiently nurtured him. Whenever Batista fell on hard times, he would think of his mother and never give up.
Batista didn’t make it out of the Rookie League until 2018. In 2019, he played in Single-A, and in 2020, he lost time when the minor leagues were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Finishing the job
In 2021, Batista gained momentum and battled his way up to Triple-A before finally cracking the major league roster last year. In his debut on 11 April, he pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings as the second pitcher behind starter Tyler Wells. His first opponent was none other than Tampa Bay. Batista recorded his first major league strikeout against Wander Franco and his first major league walk against Ji-Man Choi. Batista’s major league debut also happened to be his mother’s birthday. The first strikeout was a birthday present for her.
In the middle of last season, Baltimore traded closer Jorge Lopez to the Minnesota Twins, and Batista naturally took over the closer’s job. Batista was successful in the closer’s role until a left knee injury sidelined him.
Batista’s season stats
22: 65 games, 15 saves, ERA 2.19, WHIP 0.93
23: 45 games, 28 saves, ERA 0.92, WHIP 0.86
Batista averages 99.3 mph on his four-seam fastball. His top speed is a whopping 103.4 mph. His 100-mph fastball is even more intimidating coming from his 6-foot-2 frame. He’s thrown more than 70 per cent of his pitches for strikes this year, but his fastball is so powerful that batters are getting caught out (0.144 BABIP). Add to that a falling splitter with an average velocity of 88.3 mph, and you’ve got hitters even more confused.
Equipped with two superlative pitches, Batista is a strikeout machine. He has 96 strikeouts in 49 innings, which translates to 17.63 per nine innings. The previous major league bullpen pitcher with the most strikeouts per nine innings in a single season was Aroldis Chapman in 2014. At the time, Chapman struck out 106 batters in 54 innings, or 17.67 per nine innings. That’s a number Batista could easily surpass.
Most strikeouts per nine innings by a bullpen in a single season
17.67 – Aroldis Chapman (2014)
17.63 – Felix Batista (2023)
16.66 – Craig Kimbrel (2012)
16.43 – Craig Kimbrel (2017)
16.41 – Josh Hader (2019)
*Excludes 2020 shortened season
Due to his height, Batista’s nickname is “The Mountain. Hence the “It’s Mountain Time” chant when he makes an appearance. The hulking closer, who once wanted to quit baseball, is now a towering mountain protecting Baltimore. Baltimore is looking up at the highest point with the highest mountain.