The Orioles sent Bud Norris to the mound tonight looking for a win to clinch not only the series, but a winning trip on this seven-game road trip. Things looked bleak at first as the offense was stifled early, but the bats broke out eventually, pouring on nine runs in the seventh and eighth innings to cruise to an 11-4 win. The win puts the Orioles at 11-10 on the year, which is good enough for second place in the A.L. East. They completed the gauntlet of 16 straight A.L. East games and came out on the other side with nine wins, six losses, and one rain out. It's been stressful, but that's pretty freaking great.
Coming into tonight, Bud Norris was coming off of two solid starts, and it looked early like that streak wouldn't go any further. He walked Melky Cabrera in the first inning and when Edwin Encarnacion doubled with two outs, Bud was saved a run by a great play from David Lough to J.J. Hardy to Matt Wieters. Hardy's throw was right on the money. I am so glad to have him back.
After a shaky first inning, Norris was worse in the second. He gave up a lead off home run to Dioner Navarro and a two-run homer to Colby Rasmus, putting the Orioles into a 3-0 hole. After that, though, it was like a switch flipped. He needed just six pitches to get out of the third inning thanks to an inning-ending double play, and pitched a 1-2-3 fourth and fifth. There was a moment of concern in the fourth inning when he pulled up a little after a pitch, sending Buck Showalter and Richie Bancells out to the mound to check on him. He threw a few practice pitches and declared himself OK. It appeared his leg was giving him trouble, but if he was hurting much, he didn't let it show.
The Blue Jays got their first base runner in three innings in the sixth when Norris hit Encarnacion with a pitch. Encarnacion glared out at Bud and acted like a big scary man, but But ignored him and retired Dioner Navarro to end the inning.
At that point it looked like Norris was going to be screwed over by his offense just has he had been the last time he faced the Blue Jays. The score was 3-2, with both runs scoring in the fifth inning. Jonathan Schoop led of the inning with a solo homer, then David Lough got busy on the base paths. He walked, stole second, moved to third on a gutsy tag up, and came in to score on an opposite field single by Chris Davis. But other than that, Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison had perplexed the O's. In innings 1-4 he allowed just four hits. Three of them were doubles, but the Orioles couldn't do anything with them. Lough should have scored on Nelson Cruz's double in the third inning, but the ball bounced off of the turf and into the stands, forcing him to stay at third base.
Hutchison was replaced by Neil Wagner in the seventh inning, and the Orioles were happy to see him go. With one out, Lough doubled (his second of three hits on the day), and Wagner was replaced by Brett Cecil. No, not Brett Cecil! Having obviously heard about that time that Mark Brown macked on his sister at Pickles Pub, Cecil has made it his life's work to dominate the Orioles, holding them to a .233/.286/.291 hitting line over 16 career games. But on this night, it was the Orioles that dominated him.
Cecil walked Nick Markakis on four pitches, and after Nick and Lough executed a double steal that didn't even draw a throw, the Blue Jays opted to intentionally walk Nelson Cruz to set up the double play. They had walked Cruz intentionally ahead of Chris Davis earlier in the series with good results, but not this time. Davis put on an great display of hitting, doing just enough to give the Orioles the lead. The Jays employed a shift on Davis, leaving just one infielder on the left side. Against the tough lefty, Davis didn't try to launch a grand slam. Instead, he smacked a ground ball to the left side that just got past the lone Blue Jay left to defend half of the infield. Lough and Markakis scored to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead. Well done, Chris Davis!
And they weren't done, either. Adam Jones doubled over Colby Rasmus' head in center field to knock in one more run, and after Cecil was pulled from the game in favor of Esmil Rogers, Wieters also went the other way, blooping a single into left field to make it a five-run inning for the Orioles. Bravo!
Norris had finished the sixth inning on a roll and was at just 86 pitches, but with a sore hamstring, a long sit on the bench, and now a four-run lead, that was it for him. It was another good game from Bud Norris, a fact that I find surprising but delightful.
Norris' replacement, Zach Britton, pitched a quick bottom of the seventh, and then the offense was back for more. They added four more runs in the eighth inning, courtesy of a hit by pitch (that may have been a foul ball to Schoop, but I'll take it) and four singles. The put the game into laugher territory, so with two outs in the eighth, Showalter turned to garbage-time pitcher Josh Stinson. He did allow Britton's run to come in, but then pitched a perfect ninth to close out the game.
What a game. I love it! After putting up a stinker in the first game of the series, the offense came back with a vengeance, scoring 21 runs over the last two days. If they can keep that up, who cares about the pitching? (this is tongue in cheek, friends)