Brian Roberts had never been the recipient of a postgame shaving cream pie — the ones Orioles center fielder Adam Jones now ceremoniously delivers to unsuspecting daily heroes while they do interviews on the field after big wins.
That changed after Tuesday's 8-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Camden Yards.
Roberts played in his first major league game in nearly 13 months — his long, winding recovery from multiple concussions finally landing back at his rightful place atop the Orioles lineup. And despite three home runs by the Orioles in the win — which put them in a tie for second place with the Tampa Bay Rays, one game behind the division-leading Yankees — Roberts was the hero.
He had his first three-hit game since April 17, 2011 and added a sacrifice fly.
“The guys kind of fed off of it, because you know what it meant to him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I think everybody kind of felt a little anxiety for him before the game, but he certainly didn't play like it.”
Roberts, who has been limited to just 98 games since the beginning of the 2010 season, admitted there were times when he didn't think he'd ever play another game in an Orioles uniform. Even after his long path back — which included days of isolation in Sarasota, traveling with the team earlier this season and a three-team rehab tour through the minors — Roberts admitted to having bad dreams the night before his return Tuesday.
But after the Orioles' third straight win, Roberts was indoctrinated to the new, winning Orioles with a shaving cream pie to the face.
“I'll take a hundred of them,“ Roberts said. “After I wiped it off, all the fans were cheering around me, I got a little emotional again. Talk about being a part of a team. I hadn't felt like that in a long time. And that's something that, there's not that many people in the world can understand that feeling, what it feels like to be a part of 25 or 30 guys that are all striving for the same thing, working toward that, and all have the same goals and desires. To be a part of that is something really, really special.”
When Roberts stepped to the plate for his first major league at bat since May 16, 2011, the announced crowd of 15,613 gave him a rousing ovation. Wearing a double-flapped protective helmet, he then ripped a single up the middle. By the end of the inning, his uniform would already be dirty after sliding into first and second.
Roberts added a looping single in the fourth, drove in his first run of the season with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, then singled again in the eighth.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Roberts said. “I wasn't expecting three hits. I was just trying to go out there, and as cliche as it sounds, try to have good at-bats and try to do something that would help us win a game. I really didn't want to be part of coming in here and losing five or six in a row. That was probably my biggest fear more than anything. I just wanted to try to be productive. It was definitely more than I could ask for.”
Roberts served as a catalyst for a top of the lineup — the Orioles first four hitters went 11-for-19 with 2 homers and 6 RBIs.
“He's the sparkplug,” said Jones, who homered and tied a career-high with four hits. “We've missed him dearly. I know [there are] tremendous steps that he's made, and we welcome him with open arms. He's a big part of this team. Hopefully, we can have him going forward, because he's a very, very big part of the team."
Showalter pointed to Roberts' sacrifice fly, which started the scoring in a four-run sixth with a fly ball to right field to score Steve Pearce from third.
“That was a big sac fly, very professional at-bat and it just kind of reminded me — not that we have some people that don't do that — but that's another thing that he brings,” Showalter said. “And he's not trying to do too much, [he's] trying to put the ball in play and get that run in with the infield where it was and also get the runner over to third base. That's an example of what he brings.”
Mark Reynolds put the Orioles up 2-1 in the second inning, taking Pirates starter Brad Lincoln's delivery into the left-field stands. It was just his second home run since May 5. Jones, who drove in a run in the third, took Lincoln deep again with a towering solo blast to left in the fifth. Chris Davis launched his 11th homer of the season in the sixth, a mammoth shot to center field that he watched land about 10 rows deep into the stands.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen went six innings for the fifth time in his last seven starts and overcame throwing 41 pitches through his first two innings. Chen (6-2) allowed four earned runs on eight hits through 6 1/3 innings with two walks and four strikeouts.
“I definitely felt a little tired after six innings,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin.” But as a starter, my goal is to go deeper. I didn't make it today. I hope in my next start I can accomplish my goal. In the first two innings, I just threw too many pitches.”
Chen retired 11 of 12 Pittsburgh hitters at one point in the middle innings, but the Pirates chased him from the game with two runs in the seventh.
Outfielder Endy Chavez left the game in the sixth inning after pulling up with a strained right hamstring after rounding first base. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday and could go on the DL.
Leading 8-4, reliever Kevin Gregg allowed a two-run homer to Neil Walker in the ninth, but closer Jim Johnson came on to earn his 19th save of the year and his 27th in his last 28 opportunities.