Adam Jones admitted he's been frustrated at the plate recently, going through one of those slumps that baffle even the best hitters. And as the Orioles played deep into Saturday evening against the Philadelphia Phillies at Camden Yards, an 0-for-4 start sent Jones' season-high hitless streak to 18 at bats.
A ninth-inning single reversed the trend for Jones, but he had still left four runners on base on the day.
Still, when Jones came up for his next at-bat with a runner on first base and no outs in the 12th inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter saw no need to try to manufacture the winning run. He let his struggling slugger swing away.
“I like putting the game in his hands,” Showalter said.
In no better time to shake off his slump, Jones added to a growing resume of late-inning heroics, hitting a walk-off two-run homer off Phillies rookie reliever B.J. Rosenberg to give the Orioles a 6-4 victory. It was his third game-winning home run in extra innings this year.
The season's second sellout crowd filled Camden Yards, even though the seating bowl's sea of red outnumbered the orange nearly two-to-one. Phillies fans made the trek down I-95 in mass, taking over Baltimore's home ballpark with fervor.
But it was the Orioles who would celebrate. As Jones reached home plate to an awaiting mob of teammates, players tossed sunflower seeds into the air and pounced on the day's hero.
“I said to myself, ‘It's like it's the last three, four years having Boston and New York fans raiding this place,'” Jones said of the pro-Philly fans among the announced 46,611. “They're not happy today. The O's fans, they stood up when they needed to.”
It marked the Orioles' eighth-straight extra-inning win, tying the longest such streak in club history.
And for Jones, it was finally an opportunity to celebrate at home. He hit the game-winning homer in the Orioles' 17-inning win at Fenway Park on May 6, and his 15th-inning homer in Kansas City was the decisive blast on May 16.
"We'll sit here and play 25 as long as we get the ‘W,'” Jones said. “I don't care."
Eleven of Jones' 17 homers have either tied the game or put the Orioles ahead. Not bad for a player who began this week with his health uncertain. He had MRIs on both his wrists Monday, and they were negative.
"I'm fine,” said Jones, whose blast Saturday was his team-leading 17th of the season, but his first since May 29. “It's frustrating that I wasn't swinging the bat as well. I don't make excuses or something. ... There's no excuses coming out of my mouth. I'm frustrated that I'm not hitting the ball like I am normally, but hey, it's a humbling thing to get in a slump. It's humbling. Trust me."
The Orioles (33-26), who entered the day in third place in the AL East but just one game out of first, took advantage of several Phillies fielding miscues, while making some solid defensive plays of their own.
The Orioles scored two runs in a three-error fourth inning, taking a 3-2 lead. The O's bullpen allowed just one run over five innings, including a two-inning stint from right-hander Darren O'Day. Jim Johnson threw a scoreless ninth and Luis Ayala set the Phillies down in the 12th to earn the win.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk for the second time in a month, gave up three solo homers — to Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome and Hector Luna — but still turned in a quality start, allowing just those three runs on eight hits over seven innings.
Hunter kept the damage to a minimum, keeping his pitch count down and not issuing a walk on the day — a significant step forward after allowing five earned runs in each of his last two starts.
“Tommy's going to keep firing bullets,” Showalter said. “It's not that he's cocky or has too much confidence. … He's going to keep letting it rip."
Hunter had help from his defense. The Orioles turned a season-high four double plays, all to end innings.
“Oh yeah, a couple of double plays, ground balls, that's what you want to do,” Hunter said. “They played ball, man. That's the thing. I'm not a big strikeout guy, I'm going to make my team play. These guys make a lot of money behind you to use their gloves, and they might as well use them. That's my thought.”
The biggest double play came in the eighth inning, after the Phillies had already scores a run off reliever Pedro Strop to tie the game 4-4. With the bases loaded, former Oriole Ty Wigginton hit a ball to short that hit the lip of the infield and skipped low along the dirt. But shortstop J.J. Hardy made a quick adjustment, scooping the ball and starting a 6-4-3- double play.
“You will not see a better play by a shortstop than J.J. made on the double play,” Showalter said. The ball hit the lip and went straight down. You just don't make those plays. I wish everybody could stand out there and try to make that play.”
Said Hardy: “Just one of those balls that happens on any field. Luckily I was just able to get my glove down and get it. It's just a reaction thing. You're never expecting it. If you're looking for that, it's going to hop over your glove. It's just kind of a reaction play.”
Late-inning substitute Steve Pearce made two sensational diving plays in left field. He robbed Mike Fontenot of a hit in the 11th and then made another lunging catch of Carlos Ruiz's hit with one on and no outs in the 12th.
“You can say defense won the game early on,” Hardy said. “Those are big situations. Tommy threw the ball well. It's pitching and defense and timely hitting. Jonesy came through with some timely hitting, we played some defense and the pitching was good.”