By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:36 PM EDT, June 24, 2012
Orioles manager Buck Showalter nearly gave Matt Wieters a day off for the team’s series finale against the Washington Nationals at Camden Yards. But given the switch-hitting catcher’s success against left-handed pitching this season — and the need to find any advantage possible to provide the lineup an offensive spark — Wieters found himself in the cleanup spot on Sunday afternoon.
For seven innings, the Orioles dug themselves deeper into an offensive abyss, running their slump with runners in scoring position to 1-for-33. But with one swing, Wieters turned the Orioles’ fortunes — and the outcome of the series with the interleague rival Nats — in their favor.
Wieters’ eighth-inning, two-run homer — his first in three weeks — not only led the Orioles to a 2-1 comeback win, but it allowed them a collective sigh of relief.
“To be able to take that lead, it's a good feeling,” Wieters said, “especially when we were battling all day. Everyone was battling up there, trying to grind through at-bats to get a run, and to finally get one was great.”
The Orioles had scored just 15 runs in their previous eight games and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position Sunday. They left six runners in scoring position and stranded the bases loaded in the fourth, adding to a frustrating repeat reel of missed opportunities.
Right-hander Jake Arrieta did his job, holding the Nationals to one run on five hits over six innings. So did the dependable Orioles bullpen, which threw three shutout innings to lower its major league-best ERA to 2.30. Pedro Strop improved to 4-2 after getting the third out in the eighth, and Jim Johnson picked up 22nd save of the season, second most in the majors.
Pitching dominated the entire series — with the teams combining for just 10 runs over the three games — and the buzz inside Camden Yards was electric. The weekend series wrote a new chapter for the area’s growing baseball rivalry. It was the most highly attended three-game series in Baltimore this season (the average crowd was 44,661 with sellouts Friday and Saturday).
“With an atmosphere like that, as a baseball player, you never feel like you’re out of anything,” said center fielder Adam Jones, who singled to lead off the eighth and raised his right fist rounding second base as Wieters’ home run sailed into the Orioles bullpen in left-center.
“We didn’t score any runs for the first six, seven innings, and when we came off the field, our fans were still saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s get it started,’ right above our dugout,” Jones added. “‘We’re still behind you.’ It’s an uplifting thing. When we’re on deck, they’re really rooting for us. It’s good to see that in a large proportion, 40,000-plus for all three games.”
The Orioles (41-31) rallied for their seventh win this season when trailing after seven innings and kept hold of second place in the American League East. They also won their fourth series in their last five and finished interleague play with five series wins out of six.
“It was a culmination of a lot of good things and getting rewarded for it,” Showalter said. “I think all our guys knew the margin of error was going to be close the whole series. To be able to beat them today was a real tribute to our guys.”
It wouldn’t have happened without Wieters, who entered the day hitting .400 against left-handed pitching (compared to .199 against right-handers). Facing left-handed reliever Sean Burnett, who entered the day leading all NL relievers with a 1.04 ERA, Wieters crushed an 0-1 Burnett fastball for his 10th homer of the season, just his second off left-handed pitching.
After the game, Wieters deflected the credit to the Orioles’ pitchers, who threw toe-to-toe with a Nationals staff that owns the best ERA in baseball (2.95).
“That’s the reason we were able to win two games,” Wieters said. “If our pitching wasn’t as good as it was this weekend, both starters and bullpen, we wouldn’t have had a chance in those games.”
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