The Orioles aren’t going to make a big deal of winning one game in late May against a non-division opponent, but the club’s 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon had the feel of one they just didn’t want — or couldn’t afford — to lose.
A defeat would have sunk the Orioles (25-23) back to .500 and marked their 10th loss in 14 games. It also would have sent them on a 10-game road trip having lost three of four games at home to the Indians (24-27).
“Very important,” first baseman Steve Pearce said about the nature of Sunday’s win. “It was a great team win, and we’ll carry that momentum into Milwaukee.”
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Perhaps it was more of a relief to the announced 37,649 who showed up at Camden Yards on a perfect, 77-degree day to see the Orioles finally win on a Sunday.
The team had lost six Sunday games in a row following a victory on its first Sunday of the season, April 6 on the road against the Detroit Tigers. It was the Orioles’ first Sunday win at home in four tries and just their sixth victory in 18 day games this year.
“That’s kind of weird. I feel like we were playing good on day games,” said designated hitter Nelson Cruz, whose major league-leading 16th home run gave the Orioles a two-run lead in the fifth. “I guess we have to focus a little more on Sundays.”
Afterward, Orioles manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t say that Sunday’s game against the Indians meant anything, more or less, than any other.
“We can't live in that world. If you do, ‘Oh my gosh, coming into today, if we lose three out of four at home. …’ You can't do that,” Showalter said. “The toughest part of this homestand, for me, was driving home [Saturday] and seeing everybody downtown in orange and knowing that we didn't return the favor of playing better. So we move on.”
One of Sunday’s highlights was the return of third baseman Manny Machado, who left Thursday’s game with a right groin strain and hadn’t played since. Machado started Sunday, and in his third at-bat, he just cleared the wall in right field for a solo homer that broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth. The normally restrained Machado pumped his fist as he rounded first base.
“It was just the adrenaline rushing,” said Machado, whose only other home run this season was May 9. “I thought the ball was going to be off the wall, and then obviously the ball kept carrying, and it hit the top and, you know, my emotions came out a little bit.”
More than anything, Machado said he was excited that he was back in the lineup and experiencing no pain.
“It was a relief I was just able to run the bases … and take some swings,” he said. “That was the biggest relief, obviously. That was the icing on the cake with the home run.”
Two batters after Machado went deep, Cruz chased Cleveland rookie Trevor Bauer (1-2) by yanking an 82-mph slider into the Orioles bullpen on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. The home run broke Cruz’s tie with injured Chicago White Sox rookie Jose Abreu for the majors’ lead.
“The more games that I play, the more comfortable I feel,” said Cruz, whose 44 RBIs is the most in the American League. “It’s been a blessing to be a part of this team. To be able to contribute and have the team win. It’s been good.”
The afternoon started poorly for Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez, who loaded the bases on two singles and a walk to the first three batters he faced. He then retired the next three, though two connected for deep sacrifice flyouts to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
Gonzalez didn’t allow another Indians hitter to get to second base until the fifth on his way to his third consecutive quality start.
“Battled in the first inning. Got out of it,” said Gonzalez, who allowed two runs, four hits and four walks in six innings. “It was good after that. I wasn’t worried about it."
Gonzalez (3-3) has now completed at least six innings for the third time in four starts after doing that just once in his first four outings. Three Orioles relievers combined for three scoreless innings, including new closer Zach Britton, who pitched a perfect ninth for his second save.
The Orioles offense couldn’t put away Bauer and the Indians, but the two solo homers and Steve Pearce’s three-hit day proved to be enough. Pearce, who hadn’t started a game since serving as the designated hitter May 13, again filled in admirably for Chris Davis, who was placed on paternity leave Sunday.
“It’s my job,” said Pearce, who is batting .333 in 57 at-bats this season. “I’ve got to find some way to stay sharp, and when I get the opportunity, I’ve got to jump all over it.”
In Pearce’s first at-bat in the second inning, he singled, stole second base and scored on Jonathan Schoop’s blooper into right field. In the third, Cruz doubled with two outs and Pearce followed with a run-scoring single to left.
Cruz was nearly thrown out at the plate on the play, but catcher Carlos Santana couldn’t hold onto the ball after putting a sweep tag on Cruz’s chest.
The club now heads to Milwaukee and will play its third straight day game to kick off a 10-game road trip against the Brewers, the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers.
The Orioles could have embarked on the trip sitting at .500 and wondering just where their momentum from the early part of the month had gone.
Instead, they split the home series, still have a winning record and are in third place in the AL East, 21/2 games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
“You don’t want to slip too far [in the standings],” Pearce said. “But there’s no sense of urgency. We are still playing fine. I don’t think we have played our best baseball yet.”