We were promised home runs, and Mark Reynolds delivered on that promise tonight. Reynolds stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases full of Birds and he came through with a monster fly ball home run to left center field: a loaded tater with sour cream, chives, bacon pieces, and topped with melted cheese for good measure. The ball landed ten rows up in the section next to the bullpens and the Orioles had a 5-3 lead over the Blue Jays they would not relinquish.
Things didn't start off so smoothly. At the start of tonight's MASN telecast, Gary Thorne mentioned that it has been fifteen straight games since the Orioles scored a run in the first inning of a game and that they have been outscored in the first two innings by a significant margin of 40-some runs. That trend continued tonight as Jake Arrieta got off to a rough start. He had the O's hitters in a hole before they even stepped to the plate after grooving an 0-2 fastball out over the middle of the plate to Corey Patterson, who deposited it onto the flag court. Arrieta also walked four Jays before the end of the third inning. With the bases loaded in the third and no one out, it looked like it might be another short start for Jake and Alfredo Simon even started warming up, but Jake induced a 5-2-3 double play and then a flyout to get out of the jam with no runs in.
There was a chance the Orioles might be able to score early runs aplenty, if not quite first inning runs, as the newly-healthy Derrek Lee led off the bottom of the second with a single and moved over to third on a Matt Wieters grounds-rule double. J.J. Hardy scored Lee on an RBI groundout, but the O's couldn't get any more and it was 2-1 after two.
The Jays struck again in the fourth when Rajai Davis reached on a fielder's choice and then promptly stole second and then third. There was no chance for Wieters to throw out Davis going to third as Jake didn't hold the runner hardly at all. Davis scored on a Mike McCoy single to make the score 3-1.
That was how things stood when the O's came up to the plate in the bottom of the sixth. Jays starter Ricky Romero had been cruising, not giving up more than one baserunner for three straight innings, but Vladimir Guerrero, Lee and Wieters hit three sharp singles to load the bases before a batter was retired. Orioles fans had to wonder how the team would fail to score in this situation, and Hardy hit a grounder that could have been a double play ball but McCoy fielded at third and threw home to cut off the run. That left the bases loaded for Reynolds, who came up to the plate and crushed the ball for the first grand slam of his career.
Arrieta managed to hang around long enough despite his rocky start to go six innings with only three runs surrendered, which gives him the not-so-coveted bare minimum quality start. I have to admit I didn't think he had it in him, but he settled down and started retiring batters without going too deep into counts after the rough first couple of innings. On the day, Jake had only one strikeout to go with the four walks, but when Reynolds knocked the grand slam, that left Jake as the pitcher of record in line for the win, his 7th on the season.
The game was in the hands of the bullpen. That's always a frightening sentence in Birdland, but fortunately, things were lined up the way they "should", with Jim Johnson set to pitch in the 7th and Koji Uehara for the 8th. Old JJ had a 1-2-3 inning and Koji struck out the side in the 8th (including the reigning slugger-king, Jose Bautista) after allowing a bunt single to Patterson.
That left the 9th inning for our closer-in-name-only, Kevin Gregg, since the O's failed to get any insurance runs despite a pair of walks by Hardy and Nolan Reimold in the 8th. It was the second walk of the game for Reimold, who didn't get any hits but showed a great eye at the plate. Gregg did what Gregg does, running deep counts to every batter, and letting two men on as Aaron Hill and Davis had back-to-back singles. Gregg was in danger of turning the lineup over, but he came back to strike out pinch-hitter Edwin Encarnacion and induced a game-ending popout from Yunel Escobar to put the Orioles in the win column, leaving Gregg with a 1.70 WHIP to go with a 3.22 ERA and his 10th save.
All in all, the Orioles managed eleven hits, with multi-hit games by Lee, Wieters and Nick Markakis. Both of Markakis' hits were singles, continuing his drought of extra-base hits further. Seeing Nick get hits at all was good with the slump he's in, but it's going to take more than that to convince me he's back.
The whole team's been in a bit of a rut since the start of that west coast road trip, and when that kind of funk settles in any win feels good. The O's can manage a series win against the Jays with a victory tomorrow. Jo-Jo Reyes starts the 1:35 game for Toronto with Jeremy Guthrie on the hill for the Orioles.