As Tuesday night crept toward Wednesday morning, the Orioles' bullpen became the loneliest place in Camden Yards.
Lodged in another extra-inning thriller, the O’s relievers, one by one, were called in to pitch against the Seattle Mariners, until closer Jim Johnson was the only one remaining, joined shortly by reinforcement Tommy Hunter in the 14th.
They were stretched to the limit, but these Orioles are definitely no stranger to extra innings. And their growing track record of success had relied on the fortitude on their bullpen. On this night, six different Orioles relievers tossed nine scoreless innings, setting the groundwork for another extra-inning win.
Two minutes after midnight, Adam Jones’ 14th-inning, bases-loaded single fell in front of a diving Casper Wells in right field, ending a four-hour, 55-minute marathon and giving the Orioles their 12th straight extra-inning win, 8-7, over the Seattle Mariners.
The win came after the Orioles faced a 5-0 second-inning deficit and a 7-2 sixth-inning deficit, marking their second comeback win from five runs down in their last seven games. The O's also rallied from five down in their 11-5 win at Yankee Stadium on July 31.
“It's not a team that's sitting there going, 'Woe is me. Let's get this over,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “They grind it. They put in so much effort. … It takes so much intensity to get back into that game that sometimes it's tough to get over the hump to actually win it. They were able to do that again tonight.”
The Orioles’ 12 extra-inning wins this season are the most in the majors. The O’s (59-51) improved to 23-6 in one-run games. Five of their 14 extra-inning games have gone 13 or more innings, and they’ve won all five.
The win, combined with the Yankees’ 6-5 loss to Detroit, put the Orioles just 4 ½ games back in the American League East, marking the first time the O’s were less than five games behind the division leaders since they were four games back June 29.
"We're not paying attention to that,” Jones told reporters when asked about closing in on the Yankees. “We'll let you guys pay attention to that. We've got a game to win tomorrow -- or later today. That's pretty much all our focus. You guys focus on that. You guys write about it. We're just trying to play good nine-inning games, get the 'W' afterwards."
Jones’ game-winning hit came after second baseman Omar Quintanilla reached on a questionable call in which first base umpire Brian Knight ruled that Seattle first baseman Mike Carp’s foot came off the bag taking a throw from second. Mariners manager Eric Wedge was ejected from the game for arguing the call.
Nick Markakis then singled to center for his fourth hit of the night, and J.J. Hardy’s sacrifice bunt moved both baserunners into scoring position. Shawn Kelley intentionally walked Chris Davis to load the based to create a double-play opportunity.
But that’s when Jones, who has been the poster boy for the Orioles’ late-inning heroics, laced a 1-2 pitch to right to drive in the winning run and cue a postgame celebration on the field.
As the Orioles rallied in the 14th, Hunter – who was scheduled to start Wednesday’s game – was warming up in the pen. He will now be available for long relief Wednesday, and the Orioles have called up St. Paul's alum Steve Johnson to make his first major league start in that game.
“I don’t know if anybody can give you an exact answer other than [we] just keep playing,” Wieters said. “There is no quit in this team, and we know with our bullpen, they keep putting up zeros and eventually somebody’s got to score.”
Four of the six Orioles relievers pitched multiple innings, including scoreless two-inning stints by right handers Matt Lindstrom and Darren O’ Day.
“We just all want to take the ball at any given time,” Lindstrom said. “And I think we just have that mindset that we want to go out there and do our job to the best of our ability and hand it to the next guy. I really think that’s our mindset out there. We know we are all capable of doing the job, and we have a close-knit group of guys down there, so I think that helps as well.”
Wieters played a big part in helping the Orioles peck away at a large Seattle lead with his two homers of starter Blake Beavan, both to straightaway center field. It was Wieters’ third career two-homer game and second this season.
The Orioles rallied to tie the game at 7 in the seventh on Hardy’s three-run homer off Mariners reliever Lucas Luetge. Hardy’s 16th homer of the season — which brought announced crowd of 15,433 at Camden Yards of its feet — capped a four-run seventh inning.
The Orioles’ starting pitching had been spectacular over the previous four games, allowing just three total runs in that span, but left hander Zach Britton continued to struggle Tuesday. The Orioles bullpen picked up Britton, who allowed five runs in his first two innings and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game.
Britton allowed seven runs — just four of them earned — on eight hits over five-plus inning. A three-run homer by Kyle Seager with two outs in the first set the tone. Seager’s homer to right center field came after Britton couldn’t glove a nubber in front of the mound from the first hitter of the game. After Britton struck out the next two batters, Jesus Montero hit a sharp grounder to third that went past Wilson Betemit but was ruled a hit.
With runners at the corners, Seager took a 1-0 pitch into the right-center field stands, the first of two homers Britton allowed in the first two innings. He also allowed a solo homer to Miguel Olivo in the second. Britton was charged with two more runs in the sixth, but one was unearned, coming after a fielding error by Wilson Betemit at third.
After left-hander Troy Patton pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, Luis Ayala overcame two one-out singles in the ninth, getting Wells to fly out to center and winning a nine-pitch battle against Carp, fielding a slow grounder down the first-base line and throwing to first in time for the out to end the inning.
Pedro Strop extended his scoreless-outing streak to 14 with a scoreless 10th inning, and Lindstrom and O’Day followed with two scoreless innings each.
O’Day received some defensive help in the 13th, when late-inning substitute Robert Andino made a game-saving play, diving into the hole to rob Seager of a hit with runners on first and second and two outs.
“You can’t do any better than scoreless.” Wieters said of the bullpen. “They’ve done a great job all year, especially tonight. We had some guys that got extended a little bit and still had crisp stuff at the end of their outings.”