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Orioles take early five-run lead, hold on for 5-4 victory over Reds on Tuesday night

The Orioles have seen enough rain delays -- nearly 20 hours worth of them over the course of this season -- to know how to handle the challenges they bring.

And when the skies opened just 10 pitches into Tuesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, the Orioles were forced to wait 1 hour, 46 minutes to resume baseball, the second delay of the day after the start was pushed back 23 minutes because of an earlier storm.

When the game continued, the Orioles grabbed momentum early and held on late as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning for a 5-4 win over the Reds in front of an announced 15,021 at Camden Yards.

Starting pitcher Bud Norris, who was already in trouble with a runner at second base and no outs when the second delay came, recovered to pitch six shutout innings. He stayed warm by throwing indoors every 10 to 15 minutes as the teams waited for the rain to stop.

In the bottom of the first inning, the Orioles offense scored four runs off Reds right-hander Mat Latos with five singles.

The biggest challenge of the delay might have been persevering -- and plodding -- through late-inning, late-night baseball as the Orioles held on despite an eighth-inning grand slam by Jay Bruce that turned a one-sided affair into a one-run game.

“It was a win,” Orioles right fielder Nelson Cruz said. “It wasn’t pretty at the end, but it was a win.”

This was just the seventh game between the two clubs since the franchises met in the 1970 World Series, which ended in the Orioles’ second championship. And on Tuesday, the Orioles’ win -- combined with a loss by the New York Yankees to the Boston Red Sox -- cut their magic number to clinch the American League East to 17.

The Orioles (80-57) extended their division lead over the Yankees to a 9 1/2 games, tying their largest lead of the season. The win also put the Orioles within three victories of the best record in the major leagues, which is currently owned by the Angels (83-54).

The Orioles have won 30 of their last 32 games when scoring four or more runs. They are also 22-7 at home since June 30.

Tuesday night’s win, which ended almost 20 minutes after midnight, didn’t come easily. The Orioles held a 5-0 lead before right-hander Darren O’Day allowed a grand slam to Bruce in the eighth, and closer Zach Britton stranded runners at the corners in the ninth to preserve a one-run lead.

The Orioles sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom of the first. After Nick Markakis led off the inning with a single to right field, Alejandro De Aza reached on an infield single in his first Orioles at-bat, beating out a slow roller down the third-base line.

Cruz and Chris Davis followed with back-to-back, one-out, run-scoring singles. And even though Jimmy Paredes was robbed of a hit on a diving play by second baseman Brandon Phillips, it still scored Cruz from third to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead.

Catcher Caleb Joseph then hit a looping single into center field that scored Davis from second base to give the Orioles a four-run lead. The Orioles are 16-1 when Joseph drives in a run.

“Yeah, no doubt we want to score runs in the [early] innings,” Cruz said. “We did a really good job in that situation, drive runs in. … When you score that many runs early, you think it’s going to be a wild game. He did a good job in shutting us down after that.”

Even though the Orioles did most of their damage with small ball, they also tacked on to their major league-leading home run total with Jonathan Schoop’s solo blast to open the second inning for the game’s eventual winning run.

Schoop hit a 2-0 delivery from Latos over the Orioles bullpen in left-center field and into the Reds bullpen above it for his 13th homer of the season and the Orioles’ 179th this year.

For the second time in his last three outings, Norris’ start was interrupted by a rain delay, but he had thrown just 10 pitches and returned to the game once play resumed after nearly two hours.

On Aug. 23, Norris threw two innings against the Chicago Cubs before a 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay at Wrigley Field. Partially because the 100-year-old ballpark had no indoor mounds for Norris to remain warm, he didn’t resume that game.

But on Tuesday, Norris remained in the game, giving the Orioles six shutout innings and holding the Reds (66-72) to just four hits.

“I don't how to explain it,” Norris said. “You want to stay loose, you want to pitch. It's your day to go. I wanted to get back out there. I had a little taste of it in Chicago, bittersweet.

"I just know what this team means to me, what it means to the group. I wanted to go out there and pitch. Glad to go through six and put up a lot of zeroes.”

Before the in-game delay, Reds leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton beat out a comebacker that deflected off Norris’ right shin. But he collided with first base umpire Mike DiMuro, forcing DiMuro from the game.

Shortly before Hamilton stole second base for his 55th steal of the year, a downpour ensued, delaying the game.

But once play resumed, Norris quickly got out of the inning. Todd Frazier grounded out on the first pitch after the delay, and Joseph threw out Hamilton attempting to steal third base. Phillips popped out to second base to end the inning.

“It couldn't have worked out any better to get a first-pitch groundball to first,” Norris said. “That inning couldn't have worked out any better to get a little momentum on our side, which I'm trying to do. I was pretty jazzed up, and it went from there.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said: “I was real close not letting him go back out there. The big thing I was seeing how the ball he took off the shin was managing. That was more of an issue for me than the delay. … That was pretty impressive to go out there.

"One of the keys to the game was that inning. They had a man on second and nobody out. Obviously, a good base runner, and Caleb throws him out, and we get out of the inning. We seemed to get a lot of momentum out of that."

The Orioles pounded Latos (5-4) for a career-high 10 hits over five innings, marking just the second time in his last eight starts that he failed to go at least six innings.

Norris (12-8), who struck out seven batters and walked one, recorded his first quality start at home since July 31, when he tossed seven shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He also earned his first win (1-3) over the Reds in eight career outings against Cincinnati.

The Reds loaded the bases off O’Day in the eighth. He issued a leadoff walk to Hamilton, Phillips reached on a throwing error by Paredes at third base, and Devin Mesoraco was hit by a pitch.

Bruce then took a 1-0 fastball to right field for his third career grand slam and his 15th homer of the season.

The four runs (three earned) allowed by O’Day on Bruce’s slam tied the most he has allowed in an outing in his career. O’Day, who entered the night having allowed just one run over his last 27 outings, hadn’t allowed more than one run in any of his previous 57 outings this season.

Britton stranded the tying run at third base in the ninth, converted his 32nd save in 35 attempts this season, including 17 straight. He allowed a one-out double to Ramon Santiago that screamed past third baseman Kelly Johnson and then an infield single to Hamilton on a chopper to shortstop Ryan Flaherty.

But Britton’s heavy sinker induced a double play ball to second base, where Schoop tagged Hamilton in the basepath and threw to first base for the final out of the game.

The final play was challenged, but confirmed after 1 minute, 17 seconds.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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