It was the mother of all "fast starts" for the Birds in this one as they got on the scoreboard in a hurry, plating six runs in the bottom of the first inning after Chris Tillman put up a zero in the top half.
Nick Markakis began thinks with a little single up the middle. After Alejandro De Aza and Adam Jones nearly squandered the lead off hit, Nelson Cruz swung at the first pitch he saw out of Cincinnati starter Mike Leake's hand. He took the 90 mph cutter and sent it deep into the Orioles bullpen; just to the left of the 410 foot marker in deep center field, for a home run and the 2-0 lead to begin the ball game. It was the, Major League leading, 37th round tripper on the season for Cruz.
Three pitches later, Chris Davis laced a ball down the right field line for a double. J.J. Hardy followed with a five-pitch walk. Then, one of the newest Orioles, Kelly Johnson, earned his first RBI in the orange and black with his own double into right field, scoring Davis and extending the lead to 3-0.
As we all know by now, Nick Hundley has prodigious power. OK, maybe not, but the guy does have a knack for the three-run home run as of late. He had one just days ago against the Minnesota Twins in an Orioles loss. Well, he did it again by waiting on an 82 mph slider and yanking an outside pitch into deep left field for a long ball. It put the O's up 6-0 before the end of the first inning. The three run shot was Hundley's sixth long ball of the year.
Cincinnati went on the come back trail in the top of the third inning. They loaded the bases with one out against Tillman by way of a Tucker Barnhart walk and singles from Jason Bourgeois and Ramon Santiago. Tillman then walked Todd Frazier on four pitches to plate Barnhart, cutting the lead down to 6-1.
Arguably the Reds most dangerous hitter, Devin Mesoraco, stepped to the plate but left relatively quietly with a ball to center field for a sacrifice fly. Jones gathered the ball and Bourgeois trotted in from third base, slimming the margin between the two teams to just 6-2. Cincy's designated hitter was a pain to deal with for Oriole pitchers all night long.
Then, the Orioles failed to score in the bottom of the third and the Reds couldn't scratch anything together in the top of the fourth. Slackers!
But good old Jonathan Schoop brought scoring back into fashion just as MASN's Gary Thorne was reading off a quote from Buck Showalter that ended with "He's a strong young man." You can say that again. He hit his third home run in as many nights and his 15th of the season. This one was of the solo variety and pushed the Orioles to a 7-2 lead.
Leake would finish the fourth inning to put an end to his night. It wasn't pretty for him: he allowed seven runs on one walk and seven hits, including three home runs
His Oriole counterpart, Tillman, would make it just two innings further. He would leave after the sixth in which that pesky Mesaraco lifted an 83 mph change to left field for a solo home run. It was back to a four run deficit; 7-3. The ball was turned over to the normally reliable Baltimore bullpen. Yeah....
Tillman didn't have any great stuff tonight. Following the game, his catcher, Hundley, hinted at the thought that the strike zone was a bit tight tonight. Even so, Tilly also said that he didn't have a great feel for his pitches out there. It showed, but the big righty is a gamer and he went out and pushed through to put his team in a position to win the game.
Brad Brach began the top of the seventh with a strike out of Jake Elmore, but that was were the good vibes stopped. The same trio that loaded the bases in the top of the third did so again in the seventh. This time, Barnhart and Bourgeois singled and Santiago walked.
After a Frazier strikeout, that freakin' Mesoraco guy came up again and, again, he got on Oriole fans' nerves. First, there was a wild pitch during the at-bat that allowed Barnhart to cross the plate. Then Mesoraco doubled to left field, clearing the bases and making things tight at 7-6. Brach would be replaced by Tommy Hunter.
Hunter's third pitch to Donald Lutz was smacked up the middle. Mesoraco rounded third as Jones went to scoop up the single but it snuck just under his glove. Mesoraco scored easily and Lutz reached second base on the error by the Orioles center fielder. Somehow, that Orioles lead of 6-0 had become a tie game at 7-7. Ugh!
But the Orioles are not a playoff team because they lay down and die in the face of adversity.They fight for every game and they did just that again tonight.
The O's came back by loading the bases themselves. They did so with another Markakis single, a Jones single and a Cruz walk. Of course, Davis struck out, but that made way for quite possibly the hottest hitter in an Orioles uniform (I'm talk batting statistics here, not looks); J.J. Hardy.
Hardy worked a three-ball-one-strike count. It was a moment just begging for a fastball over the middle of the plate. And wouldn't you know it, Reds pitcher Sam LeCure obliged. He served a fat 86 mph fastball down the middle that the Orioles shortstop then lined into left field for a two-RBI single, scoring Markakis and Jones. The O's were back in front: 9-7.
Despite a leadoff double in the eighth inning, Hunter would work through the Reds lineup relatively easily to get the ball into the hands of Zach Britton for the save opportunity in the ninth.
The hard-throwing lefty would finish things up to earn the save for himself and the sweep for the team. It was thanks, in part, to two very nice plays by Ryan Flaherty, who had come in as a defensive replacement for Johnson, and Hardy.
Hunter earned the win. He is now 3-2 on the season. Britton grabbed his 33rd save and, most importantly, the Orioles now have 82 wins, which means they have guaranteed themselves their third straight winning season. Hopefully, even more W's and good times are ahead for this club. That is how far the organization has gone in just a few short years.
The club is now headed to Tampa to take on the Rays at 7:10 p.m. tomorrow night. Wei-Yin Chen is on the mound for the Birds. He will be opposed by righty Alex Cobb.
Game Notes (taken from the Twitter feeds of Oriole beat reporters)
- All nine starters had hits in tonight's game.
- The Orioles were 9-2 on this home-stand. In that span, they outscored opponents 67-38.
- Hardy is now batting .385 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
- Tillman now has a streak of 17 consecutive games of allowing three earned runs or less. (5th longest in team history)
- The O's are now 22-0 when they hit three or more home runs.
- Schoop has nine home runs in 123 at-bats since the All-Star break.
- Hundley currently has a seven-game hitting streak.
- The Yankees and Blue Jays also won tonight.