WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Jorge Mateo felt like a kid again when he arrived in a town overrun by Little Leaguers wanting nothing more to do at a major-league game than chug Gatorades, hurry to reach the front of the line at the ice cream stand and yell for every run — no matter which team scored.
The speedy shortstop keeping Baltimore in the postseason hunt made the tiny stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, sound like Camden Yards for a night. The Little Leaguers had their fill of fun. The Orioles did, too, from cardboard races to the fireworks after the final out.
Mateo lined a bases-loaded double to left field in the eighth inning, driving in three runs and sparking the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night in front of hundreds of cheering Little League World Series players from around the world.
“It’s something that reminded me of my own childhood,” Mateo said through an interpreter.
Mateo kept the Orioles 2 1/2 games behind in the race for the third and final AL wild-card spot, and Baltimore won the fifth MLB Little League Classic in front of former President George W. Bush and a sellout crowd of 2,467 fans at historic Bowman Field. Bush shook hands with Orioles and Red Sox players and went into the stands to meet Little Leaguers and their families.
The kids went wild when Mateo ripped a shot off John Schreiber for the three-RBI double and a 5-2 lead. Matt Barnes (0-4) took the loss.
“He’s been so good lately and it’s fun to watch him play,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said.
Red Sox pinch-hitter Franchy Cordero, called up for the game from Triple-A Worcester, hit a tying solo homer off reliver Dillon Tate in the eighth that made it 2-all.
“When they came off the field into the dugout, I was a little worried about some deflation, but right away guys are supporting each other,” Hyde said. “Our guys were really into it in the dugout.”
Cionel Pérez (7-1) earned the win in relief. Félix Bautista gave up a solo homer to Xander Bogaerts in the ninth, but still picked up his eighth save.
Among the fans were the father, brother and teammates of injured Utah Little Leaguer Easton Oliverson. The 12-year-old seriously injured his head when he fell out of his top bunk in the dorms. Jace Oliverson, the boy’s father, said Easton was expected to fly back Tuesday to Utah and will remain in a hospital there.
“I’m just grateful that he’s still alive because I was pretty much told he had a zero percent chance to live,” Oliverson told The Associated Press. “We feel very fortunate.”
The rest of the day featured the usual revelry now associated with a game in which millionaire big leaguers get to act like kids for a day. Hyde and Red Sox manager Alex Cora took cardboard rides down the outfield hill outside the Little League World Series stadium. Cora’s father founded the Little League chapter in the manager’s hometown of Caguas in 1969.
“This was baseball at its purest,” Cora said.
The front-row seats behind the dugouts belonged to 12-year-olds dressed in full uniform and hanging on every pitch — well, at least when they didn’t chase the team mascots for photos or storm the concourse between each inning in hopes of having a major leaguer toss them a ball.
“It’s really just seeing the pure emotions from everybody, all the smiles on kid’s faces,” Orioles outfielder Ryan McKenna said. “There were a bunch of kids that wanted autographs. I told them, ‘What’s up?’”
Not much once the game started.
Anthony Santander and Ramon Urias had RBI singles in the first off Boston’s Nick Pivetta. Pivetta, who took the loss for the Mets in the 2018 Little League Classic, struck out nine over 5 2/3 innings.
Enrique Hernandez made it 2-1 in the second with an RBI single off Dean Kremer.
“The kids have been great all day,” Kremer said. “It brought back memories of being a kid. Sometimes in this line of work, it becomes work and you forget that it’s still a game. Today brought that back for a lot of us.”
Teams from Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and all around the globe sat only a relay throw away from Orioles and Red Sox in the type of seats usually reserved at MLB stadiums for deep-pocketed fans.
Graham Vinson, a 12-year-old pitcher/catcher/shortstop, plays for the Little League team out of Hagerstown, Indiana, and, yes, he’s a New York Yankees fan. Vinson snagged a front-row seat and said he’s a big baseball fan who enjoys watching games on TV. But when he wants the latest baseball highlights, well, he checks out TikTok, “especially the Savannah Bananas.” But he said there aren’t a lot of friends his age who watch MLB — though teammate Kaden Hall loves the Cincinnati Reds — and found there are more electronic national pastimes for kids his age.
“It’s all the types of phones and stuff,” Vinson said. “It’s all Xbox and PlayStation and all that.”
That’s one reason MLB launched a game like this one — to try and steady the decline of baseball viewership among today’s kids.
At Williamsport, they watched.
The 2023 game is already set: the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies will play Sunday, Aug. 20, in the sixth edition of the game. The Phillies lost to the Mets in the 2018 game.
Both teams are off Monday.
The Red Sox and Toronto Blues have yet to name starters for Tuesday’s game in Boston.
The Orioles open a three-game series Tuesday at home against the Chicago White Sox. The Orioles send RHP Austin Voth (3-1, 4.86 ERA) to the mound against Chicago RHP Lucas Giolito (9-7, 5.34).
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