The Orioles entered Saturday's game riding a streak of five straight quality starts from their pitchers. Bud Norris was up to try to make it six in a row. With a little help from his friends, he did just that. Thanks to the Orioles coming through with some timely hitting, he got a win for his trouble, too, as the Orioles closed out a nail-biter over the Toronto Blue Jays by a 3-2 margin.
Solid starting pitching has come out of nowhere, given that it was the weakness of the Orioles team for most all of the year. It is a team effort, which was on full display in the very first inning with an inning-ending double play that came after leadoff batter Jose Reyes reached with a single. That was the 82nd double play of the year that the Orioles have turned. They continue to lead the majors in double plays turned.
In the bottom of the first, the O's looked to be back to their old tricks, squandering a gift of a scoring opportunity. Nick Markakis opened up with a single and squeaked into third base as Manny Machado doubled. That gave the O's second and third with no one out and their 3-4-5 hitters due up. Adam Jones flew out to center, not deep enough to risk trying to score Markakis. Then came a pair of first pitch hack jobs from Chris Davis (weak liner to short) and Nelson Cruz (popout to third).
One day after going 1-11 with runners in scoring position in a shutout, it looked like the frustration was going to continue. They continued this pattern in the third inning, when a one-out walk from Markakis followed by a single by Machado amounted to nothing at all.
The Blue Jays took advantage of a less than sharp second inning from Norris to get on the board first in the game. Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion each hit singles. Norris hit Brett Lawrie with a pitch, which is kind of understandable in a general sense because he seems like a huge douchebag, but is less than advisable when it will result in the bases loaded with no one out. He then walked knuckleball catcher Josh Thole to force in a run and put the Blue Jays up 1-0.
Rather than slip into disaster, though, he came through to strike out Anthony Gose and then fielded a comebacker from Reyes to end the inning with minimal damage. The Jays did not get another runner into scoring position until the seventh inning, when they mustered a two-out rally to chase Norris from the game. Darren O'Day came on to spoil their plans. He did so.
With Norris good for 6.2 innings and only one run surrendered, that made the sixth straight quality start for the Orioles rotation. The starting pitchers now have a 2.28 ERA in the nine games of the homestand. That will do, indeed. Credit to manager Buck Showalter for pulling Norris just about right when he should have been pulled, giving him the chance to finish the seventh but being ready to pounce when he couldn't.
Norris left the game with a lead thanks to the Orioles reversing their recent woes with RISP. They got on the board with a run manufactured almost solely by Delmon Young in the fourth inning. Young hit a one-out single, then motored around to third base on a blooper by Ryan Flaherty. Who knew the big guy could run like that? Since he'd gotten himself up to third, he was able to score on a sacrifice fly by Nick Hundley. Not everyone on the team is always able to go first to third. Young did and it helped the Orioles tie the game at 1-1.
The Orioles took the lead for good the next inning. Jones reached thanks to an error by third baseman Juan Francisco, his seventh of the season. The throwing error allowed Jones to get to second base, though not without bowling over first base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt in the process. Wendelstedt was none the worse for wear.
As it turned out, it didn't matter which base Jones was on. The knuckleballing sensation R.A. Dickey floated a pitch to Chris Davis in the wrong place and Davis mashed it into the Orioles bullpen, where Tommy Hunter grabbed it before it could land in the Blue Jays bullpen. That was Davis' eleventh home run of the season, and the major league-leading 18th home run of June for the Orioles as a whole. They are now 29-15 when they hit a home run.
The Jays pulled back a run in a dramatic eighth inning. O'Day hit Jose Bautista to lead off the top of the eighth. With one out, Edwin Encarnacion hit a double down the left field line that rolled all the way to the wall. With Cruz lumbering towards the ball, Jays third base coach Luis Rivera thought this was the time to test Cruz's arm. Cruz picked up the ball and fired in to the cutoff man Hardy, who then relayed the ball home to Hundley just in time for Hundley to slap a tag on Bautista.
Jays manager John Gibbons talked the umpires into initiating a crew chief review as to whether Hundley was blocking home plate. Hundley was not blocking home plate by any stretch of the imagination; the very request was nothing more than the hope of a fool - though it took replay central a minute and 41 seconds to signal what everyone should have seen within five seconds: Bautista was out any way you slice it.
Encarnacion ended up scoring anyway because relievers are fallible, as are all humans. Brian Matusz came on in relief and walked pinch hitter and former Team Steve standout Steve Tolleson, getting himself the NOOGY (No Out Guy) award for being completely and totally useless in every way. Having failed at his job, he was lifted for Ryan Webb, who unfortunately allowed Lawrie to single in a run.
Thole hit a sinking line drive to left field and it looked like the Jays might tie the game, but Cruz made a nice diving catch to save the run and possibly the game.
Holding on to a 3-2 lead in the ninth, the Orioles summoned closer Zach Britton, who was chucking in sinkers at up to 97 miles per hour. He walked Reyes with one out, then induced the 6-4-3 double play to end the game and get the Orioles back in the win column.
Following the game, Hundley received the now-traditional pie in the face for no apparent reason other than that he was the one MASN grabbed for a post-game interview.
The O's and Blue Jays will play the final game of the four-game series on Sunday afternoon at 1:35. Chris Tillman gets the ball for the Orioles, opposite Toronto's J.A. Happ.