As the Orioles enter the final month of the regular season, their accomplishments are starting to mount along with their win total. They currently have the second-best record in baseball and a nine-game lead in the American League East division.
And as the calendar turns to September, they even can claim a magic number of 19 to clinch their first division title in 17 years.
Meanwhile, the Orioles continue to let their bats lead the way, hitting three homers — including a grand slam from shortstop J.J. Hardy that capped a seven-run sixth inning — in a 12-8 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon in front of an announced 40,905 at Camden Yards.
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The Orioles (79-56) are now 23 games over .500 for the first time this season.
They received contributions from throughout the lineup Sunday. Every Orioles starter had at least one hit, and eight of the nine scored at least one run. Catcher Caleb Joseph had a career-high four hits, and Nick Markakis and David Lough both recorded three-hit games.
Second baseman Ryan Flaherty, making his first start in more than two weeks, hit a momentum-building three-run homer that put the Orioles up, 4-0, in the third inning.
“I think this team does a really good job of controlling what’s in the clubhouse, showing up every day and expecting to win,” Flaherty said. “And that’s kind of the attitude of the team.”
The victory gave the Orioles their 11th series win in their last 13, and they can get a four-game series sweep with a win in Monday afternoon's series finale. They’ve outscored the Twins, 24-11, in the first three games of the series.
Keeping the ball in the park was a challenge in the humidity Sunday as the teams combined for five homers on the afternoon.
“Day like today, ball's carrying,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It was a very offensive day. It's a hard day to pitch. We just had a few more points than they did. You know they're one of the better offensive teams in our league, and it's just a matter of time before they challenge you.
“But Ryan was big today. I think everybody pulls for him. We all know how hard he works and how much it means to him to win, to contribute, in that order. It was good to see something come back to him.”
Nelson Cruz scored the game’s first run on his major league-leading 35th homer of the season, a solo shot in the third inning.
Then, Flaherty — who entered the afternoon hitting .195 and who was making his first start since Aug. 16 — connected with a 1-0 fastball from Twins starter Ricky Nolasco (5-10) with two outs and launched it onto the right-field flag court for a three-run homer. Flaherty missed a second home run by just inches in the seventh inning when his hit bounced off the top of the right-center field fence. He settled for a triple.
For the second time in the past week, an opponent walked Chris Davis with first base open to pitch to Hardy. And for the second time, Hardy made them pay.
With the Orioles leading, 6-2, with runners on second and third bases following Adam Jones’ two-run double in the sixth inning, Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak intentionally walked Davis to face Hardy.
But Hardy crushed a 2-0 fastball over the middle of the plate from Swarzak, sending it over the left-field fence for his ninth homer of the season. On Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, Davis was intentionally walked to face Hardy, who then drove in the game-winning run in a 5-4 victory.
Hardy is hitting .308 (20-for-65) with five homers and 15 RBIs in his last 18 games.
The Orioles built an 11-2 lead after six innings, but they were forced to bring in left-hander Zach Britton to close out the game in the ninth against a resilient Twins (59-77) team.
“I’m here to play defense,” Joseph said. “I’m kind of angry we gave up eight runs today, so I could care less whether I get four hits or not. We kind of gave them a chance to somewhat get back into it. That makes me angry. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and figure out how to keep the runs down.”
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen earned his team-high 14th win despite allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings. He gave up eight hits and struck out seven batters while walking none.