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Cedric Mullins robs tying home run, hits winning one in Orioles’ 5-3 win over Mariners in 10 innings

Cedric Mullins leaped at the center field wall, extending his gloved right hand beyond it. He fell to the dirt on the warning track, uncertainty still hanging over a packed T-Mobile Park.

Then, Mullins rose to his feet and emphatically swung his left arm, letting the stadium know he in fact robbed what would have been a game-tying home run for the second out of Sunday’s ninth inning.

Two pitches after Mullins’ sensational catch denied Ty France, Seattle Mariners right fielder Dominic Canzone evened the game with a solo shot, but that simply provided the opportunity for more heroics from Mullins, who blasted a go-ahead, two-run home run in the 10th to carry Baltimore to a 5-3 victory.

“There’s always that scenario of what’s better, robbing a home run or hitting one,” Mullins said. “But to do [both] basically within an inning is pretty cool.”

Mullins wasn’t in the Orioles’ starting lineup for Sunday’s series finale, his third game back with Baltimore after a second stint on the injured list for a right groin strain. But manager Brandon Hyde said pregame he expected Mullins to make an impact in some way. Playing only 3 1/2 innings Sunday, Mullins proved him right.

“He didn’t start the game, but he finished it,” Hyde said afterward. “I was trying to give him a break today, and he ended up winning the game for us.”

Mullins said he began getting loose in the fourth inning, figuring his glove, bat or legs could be used as a factor. He entered as a defensive substitution in the bottom of the sixth, after Baltimore (73-45) evened the game at 2 with a run in the frame’s top half.

The score held until the ninth. Jordan Westburg doubled with one out, with Jorge Mateo serving as a pinch-runner. Mateo moved to third on a balk called on Andrés Muñoz, with Seattle manager Scott Servais ejected for arguing. Those extra 90 feet and Mateo’s speed proved vital when he scored on Adley Rutschman’s groundball to Muñoz.

With Orioles closer Félix Bautista unavailable after pitching two innings in Saturday’s extra-inning victory, Mike Baumann came out to protect a one-run lead in the ninth but was unable to do so despite Mullins’ sensational catch. But Canzone’s home run might have been game-winning instead of game-tying if not for Mullins, who has made his share of highlight catches for the Orioles. He placed Sunday’s securely in his personal top three for the situation alone, saying it could be his best but that he would “have to go back through the archive.”

“I can’t think of a better one,” Hyde said. “Catch of the year.”

“That was one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen,” said James McCann, a catcher in his 10th major league season.

“He’s a top-tier center fielder, one of the best in the league,” starter Kyle Bradish said. “Whenever he’s out there, ball goes up, you think he’s going to get there.”

Mullins was confident in himself, too, though he had to battle the Seattle sun. Like the announced crowd of 44,818, he was unsure initially whether he made the catch, but when he spotted the ball in his glove while lying on the warning track, he jumped to his feet, let out a yell and pumped his fist in excitement.

Nick Vespi relieved Baumann and sent the game to extras, the second straight day the pair of contenders played beyond regulation. There, Mullins hammered a go-ahead home run that also scored automatic runner Gunnar Henderson, two pitches after a drive just foul.

“How many times do you see someone make that play, hit a homer foul and then hit a homer?” McCann said. “Especially for a guy who didn’t start the game, coming off the bench, making a huge play, and then obviously maybe even bigger hit. Words don’t even describe how big he was for us today.”

In the 10th, Hyde again sent a reliever seeking his first career save to the mound. Shintaro Fujinami mostly pitched as a starter during his 10 seasons in Japan and began this year, his first in the majors, as one with the Oakland Athletics before his struggles sent him to the bullpen.

Acquired in a trade last month, Fujinami has showcased both dynamic stuff and erratic command with Baltimore. His first three pitches Sunday were balls, prompting McCann to head out for a mound visit.

“I just reminded him he’s got nasty stuff,” McCann said. “Just fill it up. I said, ‘These hitters don’t want to face you. You throw strikes, we’re gonna get out of this.’”

Fujinami bounced back for a strikeout, then induced a popup and groundout to give the Orioles an impressive series victory. Canzone’s home run off Baumann was the only run the Mariners (63-55) scored in 11 2/3 innings facing Baltimore’s bullpen over the weekend.

Before scoreless innings from Cionel Pérez and Yennier Cano, Bradish continued to assert himself as Baltimore’s top starter with Sunday’s six innings of two-run ball. In his past 17 starts, Bradish has completed the sixth 12 times and posted a 2.65 ERA, the best by a qualified American League pitcher in that span.

In Pérez’s past 11 outings, he’s given up one earned run in 9 1/3 innings, allowing nine baserunners and striking out 10. Pérez rediscovering his 2022 form would be welcome for an Orioles bullpen missing Danny Coulombe, Hyde’s top left-handed option much of this season.

But perhaps no player provides a greater jolt to this team than Mullins, a 2021 All-Star whose injuries have cost him 44 games this season. He made a leaping catch to open the bottom of the first in Friday’s series opener, though that was a rare highlight in a 9-2 defeat that marked Seattle’s eighth straight victory. As the automatic runner in Saturday’s 10th inning, he scored the only run of a 1-0 win, then provided Sunday’s heroics, pushing the Orioles’ lead in the American League East back to three games.

“It‘s just a matter of continuing to stay locked in and having faith in the team that someone’s going to pull through,” Mullins said. “I think the attitude for each of us is that we’re going to be the ones to do it. If not us, we know we’re passing it on to the next guy. That’s kind of how the clubhouse scene’s been, just having faith in each other, trusting each other that we’re going get it done.”

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