On August 18, Henry Urrutia strode to the plate to lead off in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 4-4 game. His Baltimore Orioles were deadlocked with the New York Mets, and had battled all night against Noah Syndergaard. This was Urrutia’s fifth game of the year, and he was batting just .167 at the time. He had not yet knocked his first major-league homer out of the park.
August 18 was a perfect time to change that.
On a 1-2 pitch, Urrutia lined an offering from Carlos Torres down the left field line. It cleared the fence. The Orioles won. Everyone went home happy, especially Urrutia.
Urrutia giddily danced around the bases and was mobbed by his teammates in a sunflower seed and Gatorade shower at home plate. If that was where the highlight ended, it was still a pretty good ending, but that is not the case. The real highlight of the night came a few minutes later, when Urrutia grabbed the mic to do his postgame interview with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
To this point of his career, Urrutia had played a grand total of 29 games with the Orioles and hit one home run. He had not played in the big leagues at all in 2014. Most Orioles fans could be forgiven for not knowing a whole lot about the Cuban outfielder with the sweet swing.
The pie-in-the-face routine has become slightly played out and trite, but it was not on this occasion. For Urrutia, that pie in the face meant something special, something more than a victory. Of all the Cuban players to make it to the United States, Urrutia may have taken one of the most difficult, arduous routes. He first tried to escape in 2010. He was caught. It took three more tries. He lost his ability to play baseball in Cuba, blocked by the government from attending college or training at the national stadium. As Urrutia made his final, successful escape, he first had to hide out in the sugar cane fields for 13 days. His three-hour boat ride to the Dominican Republic turned into a three-day ride — with no food or water.
By the time Urrutia finally established residency in Haiti, he had not played baseball in quite some time, and had lost a great deal of weight and strength. He was still an unpolished player, but in Cuba, had a higher batting average than Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and Yasiel Puig.
Urrutia’s homer and postgame interview were refreshing. He was visibly nervous but spilling over with unbridled excitement on camera. He apologized profusely for his English (which he has worked extremely hard to perfect). To every player in the Major Leagues, a walk-off homer is cause for celebration, but it was much more than that to a humble, deserving player like Henry Urrutia. This homer, in this moment, helped make everything he had gone through worth it. Very few times in postgame interviews do players let down their guard as completely as Henry Urrutia did following his first big-league homer. It was a special night, and Orioles Magic seemed to be in full effect.
Alas, the Orioles Magic soon fizzled. The tenuous grip on a Wild Card spot slipped away, and the team went into a massive tailspin following Urrutia’s blast. There would be no playoff berth. Henry Urrutia played in only five more games on the year, and did not play the hero in any of them. The future for Urrutia in Baltimore remains hazy, as the outfield remains crowded.
On one night in August, however, Urrutia was the hero he deserved to be. In a season filled with many ups and downs, Henry Urrutia’s walk-off winner remains the best Orioles moment of 2015.