It’s July 26, 2019, and the Baltimore Orioles are visiting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Orioles are deep into a tank that’s lasted for three seasons now and shows no signs of letting up. Meanwhile, the Angels are hoping to truly contend for a World Series title for the first time in the Mike Trout era. So far, they’ve disappointed (at least somewhat due to tragic circumstances beyond the players’ control). Coming into tonight, the Halos are sporting an extraordinarily mediocre 54-50 record, and their playoff odds are shrinking every day.
The teams enter the top of the ninth inning deadlocked at four runs apiece. Until now, everything’s been pretty ordinary. It’s somewhat surprising that both pitching staffs have held up as well as they have; L.A.A.A.A.A.’s pitching staff will finish 2019 with an ERA of 5.12, while Charm City’s hurlers will give up an absolutely staggering 305 home runs on their way to a 5.59 ERA.
The teams exchanged runs in the top and bottom of the ninth inning to knot the score at 5-5. Those will be the last bits of offense for a while, as both squads settle into the familiar rhythms of the —teen inning baseball game. Baltimore and Anaheim traded scoreless innings until the top of the fifteenth, when the Orioles woke their bats up and hung a three-spot on former UCLA ace Griffin Canning. The score is now 8-5 O’s, and things are looking bleak for the home nine.
Even though hope seems lost for the Angels, one should never underestimate the ability of Orioles’ pitchers to give up runs in bunches. Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde trots out his last hope, flame-throwing Rick Vaughn impersonator Tanner Scott, to deal with Anaheim’s 6-7-8 hitters. After giving up a single to Albert Pujols, Scott walks Andrelton Simmons and future almost-Dodger Luis Rengifo. The bases are loaded with one out, and Scott has to face slap-singler extraordinaire David Fletcher. Fletch will put up an All-Star caliber 4.5 WAR in 2019, and Tanner Scott will walk 6.5 batters per nine innings. Scott walks Fletcher on four pitches. The Orioles’ lead shrinks to two runs.
Once again, the bases are loaded with one out in the bottom of the fifteenth inning. Tanner Scott has to face Anaheim’s number-two hitter with the winning run on first base.
No sense in building up to anything here- Trout murders a 2-2 slider down the left-field line (exit velocity: 100.2 MPH), and the Orioles have to get a relay to home before the speedy Fletcher can score the winning run. Left fielder Dwight Smith, Jr. digs the ball out of the corner and relay man Jonathan Villar guns down Fletcher at the plate. After a brief replay review, the out call is upheld. A still-tied game moves into the sixteenth inning.
Canning is having a rough night, but he’s manager Brad Ausmus‘s very last option in a beleaguered bullpen. Even though he gave up those three runs in the fifteenth, Ausmus leaves him out for the sixteenth. Canning gets two quick outs before issuing a walk to Baltimore catcher Pedro Severino. Canning now has to pitch to Jonathan Villar, who’ll end 2019 with a very good tally of 3.9 bWAR and a solid 109 OPS+. Villar lays off an outside fastball and a low curveball before pulling the worst changeup ever into the right-field bleachers. The Orioles are up 10-8, but they’ve got a problem on their hands.
The Halos’ pitching may be bad, but Baltimore’s is much, much worse. With no one else to turn to, Brandon Hyde closes his eyes, throws a dart and wheels out utility guy Stevie Wilkerson. So far, Wilkerson’s career probably hasn’t gone the way he’d hoped. The former fifteenth-round draft pick is sporting a miserable .227/.268/.401 triple slash as of tonight, and he’ll finish his rookie season with a Very Bad bWAR total of -0.8, and his Statcast profile doesn’t exactly provide much hope for improvement. Shockingly, Wilkerson already had two pitching appearances under his belt thus far in 2019, and he’ll notch one more before his season is through.
Wilkie tosses a few warmup bloopers. In just a few moments, he’ll have to pitch to actual, real-life Major League Baseball players. If any remaining viewers think that they’ll be getting a Russell Martin or a Pablo Sandoval or a Drew Butera on the mound, they’re about to be proven wrong.
Brian Goodwin leads off the bottom of the sixteenth inning. Thanks to an above-average 109 OPS+ and serviceable outfield defense, Goodwin will end up with 2.2 bWAR in 2019. None of that matters tonight, though- Goodwin works the count to 1-2 before flying out to centerfield. One down.
Wilkerson’s next victim is Kole Calhoun. Calhoun is having a great July- even in one of the most offense-happy months in the most offense-happy season in MLB history, Calhoun stands above the competition. His .272/.343/.576 July triple-slash gives him a 136 sOPS+ for the month, and he’ll end the 2019 campaign with 2.4 bWAR. Again though, none of that matters when Dr. Poo Poo is on the mound. Calhoun evens the count at 2-2 before rolling over a 53-MPH looper (exit velo: 73.5 MPH). Shortstop Jonathan Villar makes a clean play and throws Calhoun out at first. One out left.
Wilkerson’s final hurdle is Albert Pujols. The 39-year-old Pujols has bounced back somewhat since his miserable -1.9 bWAR 2017 campaign, but that’s damning with fine praise. From 2018-2019, he’ll be worth a measly 1.3 bWAR. The end of Pujols’s career has been ugly and graceless and has seriously tarnished one of the greatest careers in MLB history, but there’s still a chance that he can kickstart a rally. Pujols isn’t a Jeff Mathis-type at the plate; he’ll be good for a 93 OPS+ by the end of 2019.
His problem is that he’s facing Dr. Poo Poo, who is on his A-game tonight. On a 1-2 pitch (how did all three batters end up with two strikes?), Pujols gets jammed on an inside poopball and pops out to centerfield. Baltimore wins 10-8 and Stevie Wilkerson has the first save by a position player in MLB history.
Stevie Wilkerson threw twelve pitches during his historic outing. According to Statcast, all twelve of those pitches were changeups.
The Orioles would release Stevie Wilkerson following their miserable 108-loss season, but not before two very important things happened. After his July 12 outing, Wilkerson said during a postgame interview that he was “throwing poo poo out there.” Fast-forward to Brandon Hyde’s postgame interview in the wee hours of the morning on July 26, where he refers to Baltimore’s newest closer as “Dr. Poo Poo.” And thusly did one of MLB’s best nicknames come into the world.
The second very important thing happened during the Orioles’ last game of the season. On September 29, at Fenway Park, in the eighth inning of a 4-4 game, Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. smashes a frozen rope to right field. When this ball leaves the yard, the Sox will be up 6-4, and Baltimore’s anemic offense will only have three outs to even the score. Bradley’s drive leaves his bat at 108.3 MPH. It has an expected batting average of .980. All it needs to do is get past Stevie Wilkerson.
Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, Dr. Poo Poo isn’t done yet. The Orioles re-signed him to a minor-league deal after the 2019 season. Hopefully, once MLB resumes play, Wilkerson is able to find some real big-league success. The odds are against him, but stranger things have happened-like Stevie Wilkerson becoming the first position player in MLB history to record a save.
To see Baseball Reference’s game log, click this link.
To watch Dr. Poo Poo talk about his historic night, click this link.