The Orioles certainly aren't playing their best baseball of the season, not after losing 10 of their past 13, not after starting this road trip 1-5.
That's why Tuesday night's 8-6, 10-inning, sloppy victory against the Boston Red Sox resonated within the clubhouse. Maybe it was ugly, but it also was rewarding.
“I try not to get too high or too low, but that's one of our better wins of the year,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That was a real test for us a little bit.”
It's a game they could have lost — maybe should have lost — and instead they pulled it out thanks to some unsung heroes.
“We showed fight all game today. Every time something went bad for us, we responded the next inning,” said new infielder-outfielder Steve Pearce, who had two RBIs and a key 10th inning bunt. “This team showed great heart. We battled. It was a huge win, especially to start off the series.”
Four different leads were wiped out before the 10th when Orioles reserve catcher Ronny Paulino singled home Mark Reynolds against Boston closer Alfredo Aceves (0-3). Endy Chavez added an RBI single and the Orioles secured the victory in three hours and 34 minutes. The Orioles didn't know who would come through — but unlike in recent years — there was a prevailing thought that they had a shot.
“That's what I think is making the team [have] confidence,” Paulino said. “Everybody here is getting a chance to play and when you step in the box you know you can contribute to win a game.”
Jim Johnson (1-0), who had converted his last 25 saves dating back to Aug, 14 last year, picked up the win with a perfect 10th after blowing the save in the ninth.
“We've had a lot of guys moving around a little bit, guys coming up and down, everybody is kind of shuffling around,” Johnson said. “But everybody contributed, and it was not the way I wanted it to work out, but it did. So we are happy with it.”
The Orioles (31-24) extended their Fenway Park mark to 4-0 this season — three of those wins coming in extra innings. The teams have now played 49 innings at Fenway this year — the equivalent of roughly 5 ½ contests. That includes a 17-inning marathon on May 6, which the Orioles won with infielder Chris Davis on the mound.
“I figured we were going to play 17 or 18 innings,” Showalter joked. “That's why I didn't play Chris Davis tonight. Make sure he was well-rested.”
With the victory, the Orioles moved back into a first-place tie with the Tampa Bay Rays, who lost, 7-0 to the New York Yankees on Tuesday.
The Red Sox (28-27) were down to their last strike, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a Johnson fastball just over the top line of the Green Monster in the bottom of the ninth for a two-run shot that tied the game at 6-6. The play was reviewed by the umpires, and the homer stood.
Johnson had converted all 17 of his chances this season. He said his teammates and coaches stayed away from him in the dugout. He wanted to return to the mound for the 10th.
“Yeah, I mean it was my fault. So I wanted to get back out there,” Johnson said. “The other guys picked me up. Everybody contributed tonight so it was good to see.”
J.J. Hardy, Reynolds and Pearce each had RBI singles in the inning. It was the second RBI of the game for Pearce, who was acquired Saturday from the New York Yankees for cash considerations. He also had a sacrifice bunt that moved Reynolds to second base in the 10th inning.
It was the first multi-RBI game for Pearce since May 28, 2011, when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It feels great to be able to contribute,” Pearce said. “It was a tight game, and we really battled back when they tied it up. Great game by everyone.”
Actually, it was a sloppy game by most.
The Orioles' defense, which leads the American League in errors, had another rough performance. The shoddy glove work was led by Reynolds, who technically did not make an error. But he misplayed a soft bouncer in the fifth — which led to a run — that was originally called an error. Later, it was changed to a hit.
It was the first of two bad plays that involved Reynolds, who has been switched to first base from third because of his defensive struggles at the hot corner.
Later in the fifth inning, Reynolds fielded a bunt and tried to go to third instead of getting the easy out at first. His throw bounced off the glove of Steve Tolleson, leading to another run. Tolleson was charged with that error.
Orioles starter Jason Hammel also turned in an uneven outing. He allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out seven. But he threw 106 pitches and could only get through five innings.
“Obviously you want to get deeper into ballgames, but we still had a chance to win,” said Hammel, who said the right knee soreness that has plagued him the last month is improving.
Reliever Troy Patton lost the Orioles' lead in the sixth, allowing two runs in the first inning he pitched — and he was in line for the win before Saltalamacchia's blast. It was that kind of game.
Yet, somehow, it was also another win for the Orioles, who will take as many as they can get right now, no matter how difficult they may be.
“It was a huge team effort,” Hammel said. “Not everybody can be counted on [all the time]. Usually you want to count on your basic guys. But sometimes guys are going to make mistakes and it's all about the other guys coming in and picking each other up.
“We answered back twice after being ahead and giving up the lead. That's huge. And that's what we have to do. We're not going to try and overpower you, we are going to come out and play our game and claw and scratch and find a way to win.”