CLEVELAND -- Ever since the Orioles reached the postseason two years ago, they’ve made a point of not panicking when momentum appears to be slipping away. They just try and wait it out.
So after running into a buzzsaw of quality pitching for the better part of three games against the Cleveland Indians, the Orioles’ offense finally emerged Sunday afternoon in the later innings of a 4-1 victory at Progressive Field.
The Orioles had scored just one run in 25 previous innings — and none in the last 17 — during the weekend series before they broke through for two runs in the sixth that ultimately saved them from bring swept for just the second time this year.
“It’s been a rough couple days, but we grinded through it. Grinded through some tough pitching,” said first baseman Steve Pearce, who scored the club’s first run in the sixth and added a solo home run in the seventh. “That stuff is going to happen, but we didn't let it affect us any.”
The Orioles (70-52) picked up their 70th win in their 122nd game of the year. Last season, they didn’t get to the 70-win mark until game 129, and it took them 127 games to win 70 in 2012. How far have these Orioles come in a brief period? In 2011, they won 69 all season.
With a loss by the Toronto Blue Jays (64-61) on Sunday, the Orioles now hold a seven-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees (63-59) in the American League East. The Blue Jays have fallen into third place, 7 1/2 games out.
Instead of dealing with a sweep by the Indians (62-61), the Orioles headed to Chicago on Sunday evening for six games against the White Sox and the Cubs with a hard-fought win fresh in their minds.
“It’s huge any time you can avoid getting swept, especially because we haven’t played very great baseball the past two days,” Orioles starter Kevin Gausman said. “You don’t want to get swept and go to another city. You want to leave here feeling like you got something out of this series.”
For five innings Sunday, it looked more of the same for the Orioles’ offense in Cleveland.
Indians right-hander Danny Salazar, who was recalled Sunday from Triple-A Columbus for the third time this season, took a three-hit shutout into the sixth. But he allowed a double to Pearce and hit Adam Jones, and the 24-year-old was pulled after throwing 91 pitches.
The conservative move backfired.
Cleveland relief pitcher Scott Atchison picked up two outs before J.J. Hardy singled to right field to score Pearce and tie the game at 1-1. Chris Davis, who was 2-for-22 in his previous six games, followed with an opposite-field double down the left-field line to score Jones with the go-ahead run and hang the loss on Salazar (4-6).
It was Davis’ second double in three at-bats, and it gave the Orioles more runs in one inning than they had previously scored all weekend.
“I don’t think we are worried too much about scoring runs, because we know we can score,” said second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who added a solo homer in the ninth. “It’s only two games, and today we came up and scored four.”
Pearce, who was making just his fourth start in August, had two hits including a 390-foot homer down the left-field line for his 12th of the season. It was his first since July 10.
“Stevie Pearce could easily have had a couple doubles and a home run. So it was good to see him [hit],” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He has spoiled at a real high level of hitting, and to get back into the mix again, that would be big for us.”
Schoop’s blast was perhaps even more impressive. His 12th homer of the season traveled to deep center field and was estimated at 415 feet.
“I felt good after it landed. I waited for it to land,” Schoop said. “I didn’t know it was going to go out. I hit it really good, but this is big part of the field. And when it went out, I was happy.”
The Orioles lead the major leagues with 46 multihomer games. They are 36-10 when hitting two or more home runs. And they are now 9-4 this season in games that the Gausman (7-4) starts.
The 23-year-old rookie’s outing began shakily. He walked two of the first three batters he faced, including Michael Brantley on four pitches. After a double steal, the Indians had runners on second and third bases and just one out. But Gausman, who threw 23 pitches in the first inning, escaped on a pop-up and a groundout.
“It’s frustrating at times. I just felt a little out of whack and kind of lost it there for two batters,” Gausman said of his first inning. “That’s going to happen, especially when you are trying to make quality pitches down in the zone. You are going to walk guys and put yourself in tough situations. I think it’s how you get out of those situations [that’s important].”
Twice Gausman walked two batters in an inning and didn’t give up a run. A comebacker double play rescued him in the fifth.
The lone run Gausman allowed seemed avoidable. With one out, Carlos Santana hit a potentially catchable fly ball to left field that Delmon Young chased but failed to track down. It landed at the base of the wall for a double.
Jason Kipnis then blooped a single in front of Jones, whose ill-advised throw to the plate was wide and skipped to the backstop. Kipnis moved to second on the error, but he was stranded there by more tightrope pitching from Gausman.
The Orioles right-hander allowed just two hits and struck out two batters, but he matched a career-high with four walks. He has given up three runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts.
“He was good. He slowed them down enough with the off-speed pitch,” Showalter said about Gausman. “You could tell there was a need there that he could bring for the club. And, of course, we got three good innings out of the bullpen.”
Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller (three strikeouts) and Zach Britton (26th save) each threw one scoreless inning of relief to secure the win.
For much of the season, the Orioles have been able to score when it mattered. And it really mattered in the late innings Sunday.
“We never give up. We might be down eight runs and we are still in the game,” Schoop said. “In one inning, we can score eight, too. You never know. This offense is really good, from the first [batter] to the bottom.”
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