The last time the Orioles faced knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, they were mystified by pitches with so little spin that you could nearly make out Bud Selig's signature on the baseball.
But Tuesday, the Orioles figured out the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner at Camden Yards in their first meeting against him as a member of the bolstered Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles batted around in a four-run second inning against Dickey, slapping his fluttering knuckleball around the holes in Toronto's infield, and then held on for a 4-3 win.
Almost as impressive was how the Orioles bullpen closed out another late-inning, one-run lead for the team's 100th consecutive regular season win when leading after the completion of the seventh inning, a run that began Aug. 8, 2011 and correlates with the team's transformation into a winning ballclub. The streak is the second-longest during the expansion era — since 1961 — trailing only the 1998-99 New York Yankees (116).
Tuesday's victory, the Orioles' fifth in their last six games, also improved their record against the AL East to 9-5, and they have won four of five series against division opponents. The Orioles (12-8), who are now a season-high four games over .500, head into today's series finale with a chance to sweep their first series of the season.
“We have a lot of bridges to cross, but I'd rather see that than the other way,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There's another challenge around the corner, and I'm proud of the way they're taking on all of them. We know how good Toronto's going to be, and Tampa and New York and Boston. You've just got to keep plugging along trying to do what you do best.”
After opening the season 0-3 in one-run games, the Orioles have now one four straight.
Last June while with the Mets, Dickey pitched a one-hit, complete-game shutout against the Orioles, striking out 13. But Tuesday, the Orioles got to Dickey early. They opened the second inning with three singles against him, none of them hit especially hard, but still damaging nonetheless.
Matt Wieters had an RBI single, Nolan Reimold added a sacrifice fly, and the biggest hit in the rally was Manny Machado's two-out, two-run single that gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead. Already leading 2-0 with the bases loaded, Machado took the first pitch up the middle past a diving Munenori Kawasaki at shortstop.
“It's tough to hit that ball,” Machado said. “It's not an easy pitch to hit. We took advantage of his mistakes with the bases loaded. We came up with big hits, scored one, then we got more. Against someone like that, a Cy Young winner, you have to go up there and take advantage of all his mistakes he makes, and we did a good job of that today.”
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez made one costly mistake — a three-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion in the sixth that came after a pair of two-out walks — but he still recorded his third quality start in four outings this season. Gonzalez yielded five hits over six innings with four strikeouts and three walks.
Gonzalez (2-1) made relatively easy work of the Blue Jays early, holding Toronto scoreless for five innings until running into trouble in the sixth. He has produced quality starts in seven of his last eight starts dating back to last season, all of them coming against AL East teams. He has 12 quality starts in 14 career starts against division opponents.
“Instead of staying on my toes, I was on my heels that sixth inning,” Gonzalez said. “Balls were up. [I was] just trying to do too much when I really didn't need to. Good thing we got the win. We got Dickey early, which is really, really tough to get him, especially with that knuckleball. We are not used to seeing a lot.”
Dickey (2-3), who has struggled with his new team, allowed just one hit after the second inning, but he also walked a season-high five batters. He lasted six innings, allowing four runs on six hits with four strikeouts, a wild pitch and a passed ball.
Acquired to a part of Toronto's massive offseason upgrade aimed at winning the division, Dickey has a 9.28 ERA in two starts against AL East teams this year.
The Orioles bullpen locked down the Blue Jays in the final three innings. Left-hander Brian Matusz pitched a perfect seventh, notching two strikeouts.
Right-hander Pedro Strop then stranded runners at first and third in the eighth by striking out Melky Cabrera to end the inning. Closer Jim Johnson pitched a scoreless ninth for his eighth save of the season.
Strop and Johnson both said they didn't know about the 100-game winning streak when leading after seven innings.
“I knew we've been winning a lot since last year and the year before in September when everything started,” Strop said. “I knew we were winning a lot of one-run games, but I didn't know we had won that many.”
Said Johnson: “Obviously it means that guys are throwing the ball well in the bullpen, getting put in good opportunities and doing what they're supposed to do. ...
“You're kind of hitting me blindsided with this, but if you look at the date, that's pretty much when things started to turn around here. So we kind of point to that as maybe the beginning.”