Tyler Wells missed the Orioles’ first clinch celebration. He made sure to ‘cherish’ the second. – Boston Herald
As Tyler Wells approached Camden Yards’ mound Thursday night, he took a brief moment for himself.
He knew the task at hand — three more outs to secure the Orioles an American League East title — and he was ready. But after his jog from the bullpen, as he walked to the rubber to throw his warmup pitches, he paused, looked around and reveled in the moment, knowing the journey he’s taken to get there.
“I looked around and said, ‘Wow, this could be it,’ Wells said. “I knew I still had a job to do, but hearing Birdland and hearing Camden just go absolutely nuts … it was so incredible to be a part of it.”
Wells was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher in the first half of the season, but as fatigue set in after the All-Star break, he was optioned to the minor leagues and temporarily transitioned back into a reliever. He didn’t return until last week, missing the first clinch celebration despite the important role he played in the achievement.
The Orioles’ roster is filled with players like Wells, whose windy path serendipitously led to Thursday’s ninth inning. But few have reached highs as high — or lows as low — as Wells in 2023.
He said Thursday’s achievement — recording the final three outs of the Orioles’ 2-0 win over the Boston Red Sox — is the highest of them all, and it makes him appreciate the odyssey he endured to make it there.
“If you would’ve told me this at the beginning of the year,” Wells said in the clubhouse during Baltimore’s celebration, “that I would’ve been starting for the first half and closing out to win the AL East, I would’ve told you you were joking.”
Eleven days prior, as the Orioles chugged from the homer hose during their wild playoff clinch celebration, Wells was with Triple-A Norfolk, two days removed from a poor relief outing. He and a group of players with the Tides, including Ryan McKenna, Cole Irvin and others who spent much of the 2023 campaign with Baltimore, received a FaceTime from general manager Mike Elias and skipper Brandon Hyde.
“It did hurt not having some of those guys here for the celebration the other week,” Elias said.
Wells said that day was “bittersweet.” He felt pride for his teammates and for the role he played on a team that clinched the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2016. But he also longed to actually be there — popping champagne bottles, pouring beer over his teammates’ heads and dancing to the blaring music.
“We loved seeing the guys and them having fun,” Wells recalled. “To be up here now with all these guys is amazing. I wish the guys who were down there with me at that time were up here as well. I know that I’ll be thinking about them tonight.”
This time, though, he got to celebrate. With goggles on, he chugged a Budweiser with Austin Hays. He and Anthony Santander embraced in a long hug. Jordan Westburg sprayed him in the face with champagne, and Wells returned the favor by dumping a beer on the rookie’s head. And he was one of the first players to slurp from the homer hose as teammates doused even more champagne on his face.
“I’m going to cherish this forever,” he said.
Before those shenanigans, though, Wells was given a difficult task. The 6-foot-8 right-hander entered with a 2-0 lead, facing the heart of Boston’s order. It was his first MLB save opportunity since September 2021, when he was last a big league reliever.
Entering the contest, Hyde didn’t plan on having Wells pitch the ninth inning of a two-run game. “It was just kind of the way it happened,” he said. It was the first time the 29-year-old pitched on consecutive days this season.
“For me, Tyler’s a pitcher first,” Hyde said. “That’s why you take your chances.”
Hyde’s trust in Wells isn’t shocking. As spring turned to summer, Hyde advocated for Wells to be an All-Star. Before Kyle Bradish emerged as Baltimore’s ace, it was Wells who was the team’s No. 1 starter.
In 104 2/3 innings, Wells posted a sparkling 3.18 ERA and MLB-best 0.927 WHIP. He allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of his 17 first-half starts.
“He was a horse. He was our best pitcher in that first half,” Bradish said. “I’m so happy that he’s here to experience this.”
But he “hit a wall,” Elias said, to begin the second half and was demoted to Double-A for what Hyde called a “reset.” It was far from the first speed bump in Wells’ career.
As a minor leaguer with the Minnesota Twins, Wells underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2019. After he recovered from the surgery, the Orioles selected him in the Rule 5 draft, and he made the roster of a Baltimore team in 2021 that lost 110 games. He was a reliever throughout that season and became the team’s closer in September. Last year, he was once again one of the Orioles’ best starters in the first half, but two injuries caused him to miss most of the second half.
After another adversity-filled year, Hyde is excited for what’s to come for Wells — in 2023 and beyond.
“He’s a favorite. He’s a great story,” Hyde said. “He’s going to be better for it next year. To kind of swallow his pride a little bit, honestly, and pitch in Double-A and Triple-A games just to see if we can hopefully get him out of the bullpen in spots like this, he’s come through.”
When the Orioles optioned him in late July, Elias envisioned getting Wells back to pitch as a reliever in games like Thursday’s.
Wells was ready.
He handled the high-pressure moment with ease, inducing groundouts of Adam Duvall, Alex Verdugo and Trevor Story to end the game. As the Orioles rushed the field, he was at the center of the celebration.
“We wouldn’t be here without him,” said starting pitcher Dean Kremer, who earned the win with 5 1/3 scoreless innings. “It’s kind of like a full circle moment having him to close out a game like this.”
“You couldn’t write that up better,” catcher James McCann said. “We’re not here without Tyler Wells.”
After about 15 minutes of celebrating in the clubhouse, though, Wells took another moment for himself. As his teammates continued the party, Wells went out to the field for half an hour with his fiancee, Melissa Carpenter, who was a “big support system” during his stint in the minors.
“I wanted to make sure that this moment was just as special for her as it was for me,” he said.
When he returned to the clubhouse, he walked slowly to rejoin the party, grinning from ear to ear, once again taking it all in.
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