This was exactly what they needed. After two straight stinkers left some - including yours truly - with flagging morale into the last stretch of the postseason chase, the Orioles needed to do what they have done many times before this season. They needed to come out and send a message that they are here in this race and they belong. Seven home runs later, the message has been received loud and clear. It's not midnight yet.
You are forgiven if you had worries in this game after the top of the first inning, when Edwin Encarnacion, the one good hitter in the Blue Jays lineup, crushed a home run on a fastball that was belt-high on the inner half of the plate. That is a pitch that deserves to be a home run. It was, and the early 1-0 lead left you thinking, at least for a minute, "Here we go again."
A minute was about all the longer you would have been thinking that if you were watching the game. In the bottom of the first, Nate McLouth - walking up to bat to the 1985 Mr. Mister classic, "Kyrie" - led the game off with a monster bomb into the center field bleachers. Were you worried, Orioles fans? You need not have worried for long, though you were probably still frustrated that two batters later, Chris Davis bounced into a double play.
The starters for the game, Carlos Villanueva for the Blue Jays and Miguel Gonzalez for the Orioles, entered lockdown for the second, third and fourth innings. Villanueva had six strikeouts through four. Gonzalez was scattering hits like a champion. At least until the fifth, when the bottom of the Jays lineup touched him up. Catcher J.P. Arencibia doubled to right - a generous scoring for the fielder, Davis, who failed to cut the ball off and hold him to a single - and scored when Anthony Gose singled to nearly the same place. Two fly balls later and the inning was over, but the damage was done.
Perhaps you thought once more, "Here we go again."
If you thought that - and, unsurprisingly, I did - then yet again you were not thinking it for very long. Jim Thome led off the bottom of the 5th inning, and he was in the mood to mash some taters. What's taters, precious? Bombs, homers, dongs, dingers, whatever you want to call them. He has done it many times before. He did it again tonight - a thanks-for-the-flag-court-renovation home run that tied the score right back at 2-2. I wasn't looking, but I hope there were some brisk handshakes waiting for him in the dugout.
Did you think they would stop there? Once the floodgates open, they cannot be closed so easily. Two outs after Thome's homer, sensational rookie Manny Machado got into the act by blasting a fly ball into the Orioles bullpen, which I believe Luis Ayala reprised his role from two days ago and caught. McLouth and Hardy followed with a pair of clean singles to left, and then it was time for Thor to swing Mjolnir - another ball into the Orioles bullpen, an Earl Weaver Special to stake the O's to a 6-2 lead after a 5-run 5th inning. This is what the announced crowd of 26,513 came to see.
Nor were they done hitting home runs after that three-homer inning. Mark Reynolds added another, a two-run shot that scored Matt Wieters in the 6th. Davis reprised his role as Thor with a two-run shot of his own in the 7th that also scored Hardy, and Machado, not wanting to be left out, launched the seventh home run of the night, also a two-run blast, scoring Reynolds, who reached on an error by Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie.
The seven home runs tied the franchise record for home runs in a single game. For an additional funny quirk, Thome and Machado had the second-biggest age gap ever for a pair of teammates who homered within a single inning.
When you hit seven home runs, you darn well better be cruising to victory. Gonzalez did his part. He mostly cruised through seven innings of work, scattering five hits enough that he only gave up the two runs. With only one walk and one strikeout, you might say that the BABIP dragon was mostly on his side tonight. The outing still counts and the Orioles have lowered their magic number to 5, with the potential to go up farther depending on the result of the duel between King Felix and C.J. Wilson.
Toronto used five pitchers and every one who pitched more than an inning gave up a home run. Villanueva's line was seven hits over 4.2 IP, with six runs, all earned, making his 7:1 K/BB on the night much less impressive. He was followed by Brandon Lyon (0.1 IP, 1 K), Joel Carreno (1 IP, 2 ER), Chad Beck (1 IP, 2 ER) and David Carpenter (1 IP, 2 R, 1 ER). Nobody could stop the Orioles tonight. They could only hope to contain them, and they didn't do that very well either.
With seven innings from the starter and a generous 10-2 lead heading into the 8th, it was an easy night for the bullpen, and they made sure to keep it that way. Brian Matusz threw a perfect 8th even though he only faced one lefty. He got two strikeouts in the process. Tommy Hunter had a bit more of an adventure in the 9th inning, allowing consecutive singles to pinch-hitter Adeiny Hechavarria and first baseman Adam Lind. But then another pinch-hitter, Moises Sierra, grounded into a double play, 6-4-3, and that brought an end to the game.
Oh, and because I would never be able to forgive myself if I forgot to mention him, L.J. Hoes came out to pinch-hit for McLouth in the bottom of the 8th. This was immediately following Machado's home run. As soon as he was announced, he got a standing ovation from the crowd, which was either chanting "Let's Go O's!" or maybe even "Let's Go Hoes!" Some names are just meant to be. Hoes took a couple pitches, took a couple hacks, and grounded out, shortstop to first, busting it down the line and making it more interesting than it had any right being. For his trouble he received another standing ovation.
Final score, 12-2, and, don't look now, but the dreaded run differential has ascended to -1. A victory on Friday would guarantee it would be no less than 0 for the first time in forever.
The O's can rest on an off day tomorrow, doing some scoreboard watching. These Jays are flying back home to take on New York, and we can only hope they manage to deal two losses to the Yankees in four games, same as they did to the Orioles here.
Boston comes to town on Friday for the final home series of the year. Daisuke Matsuzaka will face off against Chris Tillman in the 7:05pm game, with the Orioles needing a win to get to dan o'hare-ville, population: Birdland.