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Orioles emerge from sloppy game with 5-3 win over Rays

O's benefit from five Tampa Bay errors, boost lead in AL East to two games

By Dan Connolly

The Baltimore Sun

12:02 AM EDT, May 13, 2012

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If a team is going to have one of those unforgettable, ridiculous, are-you-kidding-me kinds of seasons, then it has to beat clubs it's not supposed to beat and get contributions from players no one was counting on.

It's too early to proclaim that these upstart Orioles are going to make noise all year, but as the quarter pole of the season grows closer, they are starting to win games in a manner that can make even the most cynical Orioles fan start to wonder.

Case in point: Saturday's 5-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards included a home run by a guy who had no team last month, a solid effort by their once-lost young lefty and a rally that was ignited by a catcher's interference call.

Throw in one of the worst defensive performances in the history of the Rays (and the Devil Rays, for that matter) and you have just another, ho-hum, early-season victory by the American League East-leading Orioles.

"We're just trying to keep it going," said Adam Jones, who had a two-run single and scored a run Saturday. "We're not trying to jinx ourselves. Just take it one game at a time. We're playing our division right now. These are games that are really, really important, especially early in the season."

The Orioles (22-12) are tied with the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League and are two games ahead of the second-place Rays (20-14) in the East. They have clinched their eighth series victory in 11 tries and have won a series from each of their division foes -- before mid-May.

It has been an incredible run considering the injuries and roster shuffling that have gone on in the past week. On Saturday, they put Mark Reynolds on the disabled list with an oblique injury and recalled 32-year-old infielder-outfielder Bill Hall, who was without a job in April after not making the New York Yankees this spring.

In the eighth inning, with the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead, Hall had his first hit as an Oriole, a solo homer that cleared the scoreboard in right. It was his first big league homer in nearly a year, and he received a shaving cream pie in the face from Jones after the game.

"It was a lot of fun to come into my first game and obviously be able to contribute. Insurance runs are always big late in ballgames when you have a lead," he said. "Hopefully, it's more to come."

The win wasn't easy or pretty -- looking at times like a matchup in Sarasota, Fla., or Port Charlotte in March. Roughly half of the 18 men playing Saturday were not everyday regulars.

But the spirited announced crowd of 32,862 didn't seem to mind. It loudly cheered Orioles starter Brian Matusz as he walked off the mound with two outs in the sixth and the game hanging in the balance.

The crowd roared again when reliever Luis Ayala struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to preserve the lead in the sixth and hand Matusz (2-4) his second win in three starts since ending a personal 12-game losing streak.

And the fans went absolutely nuts when Hall hit his homer.

"I also know that the crowd hasn't been showing up, but as they see this team start to believe, then they're starting to believe, too," Hall said. "I know through Twitter that there's a lot of excited fans out there right now."

Hall's homer provided plenty of cushion in the ninth for closer Jim Johnson, who converted his 19th straight save opportunity and 11th this season by retiring all three batters he faced. The Orioles' bullpen has set down all 19 batters -- in 6 1/3 innings -- in this series.

"Handing the ball over to this 'pen, there's no better feeling," said Matusz, who allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits and one walk in 5 2/3 innings. "Guys came out today and shut it down. They've been consistent all year. It's great to have a bullpen like that."

Some of the credit for Saturday's win goes to Matusz, who allowed a second-inning solo home run to Bethesda's Brandon Guyer, then retired 12 of 14 before running into trouble in the sixth.

With two on and one out, Guyer hit a grounder to third baseman Steve Tolleson, who stepped on third for the second out. His throw to first short-hopped Wilson Betemit, who couldn't make the scoop. Former Oriole Luke Scott followed with a two-run single to cut the Orioles' lead to 4-3. Matusz was chased when Elliot Johnson added an infield single.

"There's a lot of positives in today," Matusz said. "Kept the ball down, slider felt good, but just have to keep working hard and staying on top of things and keep battling. I'd like to go deeper in games. That would be huge for [the] next outing."

The Orioles managed to score four runs against Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore (2-2), but three were unearned due to because of five Rays errors -- tying a franchise record set that was set in 2000 and 2001, when they were the Devil Rays.

The key two-run fifth began when Orioles catcher Luis Exposito was allowed to take first on a pop-out when it was ruled his bat hit the mitt of Rays catcher Chris Gimenez. He later scored on Jones' single. Both runs in the second were unearned when the Rays committed three errors.

"You never see Tampa with five errors," Jones said. "Just take advantage of them. Today wasn't the cleanest-played game, but we were able to get a bigger hit than them."

As a result, the Orioles walked away with another win. Now they have a chance to sweep the Rays, who came into Baltimore tied with the Orioles for first place.

That seemed unthinkable in April. But maybe it isn't as crazy in May.

"A lot of people are asking me, "Are you surprised at this team?' We're not surprised," said reliever Pedro Strop, who contributed another perfect inning Saturday. "We aren't surprised. We've been doing what we were hoping. A lot of people are surprised, but we're not. We are going to keep winning games."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun