With the fourth organization, Jorge Mateo finally pulled it off and ran with

The transaction date was August 5, 2021 and it was probably not recorded around Birdland at that time. But the Orioles had claimed only one top-100 prospect, infielder Jorge Mateo off waivers from San Diego. He had plenty of speed, but the promise he once showed had yet to materialize at the big league level.

Of course, he’d never had an extended chance to really show what he can do, making just 121 plate appearances in 79 games with San Diego. He was already 25 when he broke into it in the 2020 season.

But now, the player who was once ranked No. 26 by Baseball America in its 2016 top 100 is finally thriving under the Orioles’ watch. He made a strong first impression at the end of last season, batting .280 with a .748 OPS in 32 games and that meant he could have a real shot this year.

He did and he ran with it.

In the first half, it was a solid and regular defense that he showed with this dazzling speed. But in the second half, his bat came to life. And while his overall numbers heading into last night’s game with an average of .233 and .690 OPS are below the big league average, it’s his recent hitting that now ranks him among the best shortstops in the American League. by FanGraphs.com Wins Above Replacement.

Last night, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts at 4.2 led the AL shortstops in fWAR with Texas’ Corey Seager at 4.0 and Mateo next at 2.7. This put the O’s shortstop ahead of players like Bo Bichette, Carlos Correa, Jeremy Pena and Bobby Witt Jr.

Mateo posted .610 OPS heading into the All-Star Game and that number is .903 in the second half as he was down to .308/.346/.558 heading into last night. It’s not that simple, but a key stat for him is less swinging and missing. A strikeout rate of 30.6 before the break is now 20.0.

“Yeah, we can say that for sure (that less hunting has been important to him). I think that’s something that plays when it’s time to step in. But just work (that’s big). The hard work has been one of the keys to the success I’ve had lately and a lot of focus,’ he told the clubhouse this week through team interpreter Brandon Quinones.

From Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Mateo signed as an international free agent with the Yankees for $225,000 in 2012. He was later traded to Oakland then San Diego and now he’s finally putting it all together at 27 years with its fourth organization.

Is he modeling his game after someone?

“I would say Jose Reyes. I really watched him long enough because he’s a player who looks like me. I also watched Derek Jeter and the way he conducted himself and was a true professional. When it came to hitting a guy I looked up to a lot, it was Manny Ramirez,” he said.

Mateo said both when asked if he was more excited for a big defensive play or getting the big hit like he did late innings against the Red Sox and White Sox recently.

But some of the best defensive plays are still fresh in his mind from the start of the year.

“Yeah absolutely. One of them was against the Pirates. I dove in the middle and was able to make a play. Then in Toronto we came up with a huge backhand play to help us win the game towards the end. Same thing against Cleveland where I had to make a play in the hole, and I was able to find it and make that play. So definitely a lot of picks,” he said.

It sure works now for Mateo in Baltimore. Did he feel last year that joining this team would be so good for him?

“So you know of course that I always had full confidence in myself and what I’m capable of doing,” Mateo said. “But you never know. It’s such a long season and you never know if you’ll be here for a full season or what that entails. But I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to compete, to win my place and to do a good job.

Now, with his combination of speed, defense and pop in his bat, some consider him one of the most exciting players in the game right now.

“You know, it’s something huge and great that people want to come see me play, Jorge Mateo. I’m very proud of it, and it’s something that I’m really happy to hear. You know, every time I go on the pitch, I want to give my best and play very well. You never know if someone is watching me play for the first time, I want to leave a good impression on them. And show them that I’m a very good player, whether they come to see me or anyone else in the team. I want to make sure I leave a good impression on them,” he said.

What a victory: The Orioles’ 4-3 11-inning win over Chicago gave them a series win and kept them within 2.5 games of last place in the AL playoffs. In a season filled with many amazing wins, this one will rank among the best.

They were down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth when Chicago’s Adam Engel dropped a game-ending pop-up in foul territory. Given new life, rookie Kyle Stowers hit center right on the next pitch (his first MLB homer) to tie the game and they won it in 11.

Stowers’ homer came down 0-2 against best closer Liam Hendriks. It was the first homer he allowed on a 0-2 pitch since 2018 and hit a 19-game save streak for Hendriks.

It was magic for the Orioles as they improved to 65-59 and are now heading for a big weekend streak at first place Houston.

The win gives the Orioles an Aug. 14-8 record and they have three straight months of wins for the first time since 2016.

Aubrey L. Morgan