As Ubaldo Jimenez walked off the mound in the middle of the eighth inning of the Orioles' 7-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night, he was greeted by the home crowd at Camden Yards with a standing ovation.
The reception hasn't always been as warm for Jimenez, who was signed to a club-record four-year, $50 million contract in February. He has heard his share of boos from the seating bowl after many disappointing and short outings.
On Monday, Jimenez could stand tall, and he touched the bill of his cap to the crowd after delivering his deepest outing of the season and earning his first win in an Orioles uniform in front of the home crowd .
“As a ballplayer, that's what you play for, to be there for the fans, to get a good [cheer] from the fans,” Jimenez said. “If you don't do good, no one will be cheering. They won't be cheering for you, but when things are going great, you know they're going to be there supporting you, so it was great.”
The Orioles (43-39) staked Jimenez to an early 6-0 lead after hitting four homers — including a pair of two-run blasts from Steve Pearce — off former Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders, and went on to send the Rangers (37-45) to their 10th loss in 12 games.
With the win, an Orioles team that has yet to reach its peak is just one game behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who were off Monday, in the American League East.
A player short as third baseman Manny Machado began serving a five-game suspension and with their bullpen reeling from accounting for nine innings in the previous two games, this was exactly what the Orioles needed — one of their best all-around efforts of the season.
Pearce drove in four runs and had the first multihomer game of his career. Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy each added a solo home run.
Jimenez, who earned his first win since May 8 and snapped a nine-start winless streak, held the Rangers to one unearned run and four hits in eight innings.
He earned his first win of the season at Camden Yards in his ninth home start. Entering Monday, Jimenez was 0-6 with a 6.28 ERA in eight home starts this season, but his season ERA at Camden Yards dropped nearly a full run (5.29) after Monday's outing.
And the home crowd rewarded Jimenez with an ovation he will remember.
“We have very knowledgeable fans,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “They know how good he's capable of being. I heard David Cone one time outside my office in New York talking about fans responding negatively toward an outing. And he made a great statement I've always remembered and I've actually talked to Ubie about it, that everybody's waiting to embrace you. It's your responsibility to give them something to embrace you about.
“[That's true] especially here. They want you to do well. Everybody's waiting to embrace you. … He may not wear it on his sleeve, but it bothers him when he can't deliver every time he cocks his arm."
Jimenez (3-8) struck out seven batters and walked just one. He retired 10 of the last 11 hitters he faced, making quick work of an injury-depleted Rangers lineup through the middle innings.
“It was great to see,” Pearce said of Jimenez. “He was keeping the defense on their toes. He was ahead in the count. He was working quick. … It was great to see because we know what he's capable of. … He's a good pitcher and we were waiting for him to get going, and hopefully this sparks that.”
The Orioles hope Monday's outing can be the beginning of Jimenez, who has traditionally been a better second-half pitcher, turning around his season. Monday marked the beginning of the unofficial second half of the season, and Jimenez pitched to a 1.82 ERA in the second half last season after compiling a 4.56 mark in the first half.
“There's no doubt about that,” Jimenez said. “I know it's been really tough for me in the first half, but I have a lot of confidence, a lot of faith that things are going to change. They changed before. So, I understand that. I always come in every day with a positive mind [thinking] that things are going to change.”
Showalter said he believes in Jimenez's track record.
"He's had some good ones this year,” Showalter said. “It's that time of year as far as track record and really our needs. He was solid. It was needed. We had people who could pitch, but it was needed. He was solid. He had command of all his pitches. I thought the very first hitter, there he goes 3-2 and gets a strikeout, and he kind of settled in and was on his way. Solid.”
Jimenez has often pitched from behind this season. He left the game with the lead in just two of his last eight starts heading into Monday's game, and the Orioles scored nine total runs in the previous four games he started. But the Orioles jumped out to a 6-0 lead after five innings Monday, scoring all of their runs on homers.
“I think it changes, just have a little more margin of error,” Showalter said of Jimenez pitching with a lead. “You can get in attack mode more. You get some counts in your favor, you can try to put somebody away and not always try to make a perfect pitch. And with that, it allows you to get in the flow and let your ability take over.”
Pearce put the Orioles up 2-0 two batters into the bottom of the first inning, taking 1-0 fastball deep into the left-field stands after Nick Markakis drew a leadoff walk.
Two batters later, Jones teed off on Saunders (0-5), pulling a 2-2 pitch down the left-field line for his 15th homer of the season.
In the next inning, Hardy hit his second homer in nine games after going homerless in his previous 339 at-bats when he hit a 1-1 pitch to left-center field.
Pearce then hit his second homer of the night in the fourth, sitting on a 2-1 hanging curveball and sending it into the left-field stands to give the Orioles a 6-0 lead.
Pearce, who was placed on waivers in April and refused a waiver claim so he could return to the Orioles, finished June hitting .361 (26-for-72) with five homers and 13 RBIs in the month.
“You get into a comfort zone and you start to feel good,” Pearce said. “I'm trying to ride it for as long as possible and set the table. … It's just good to spark the team and get some runs scored.”
With their four homers Monday, the Orioles finished with 46 home runs in June, the most in the major leagues. Their 96 homers this season are second-most in the majors, trailing only Toronto (108).
The Rangers (37-45) scored their only run on a throwing error by third baseman Chris Davis, making his first start there in 2 1/2 years in Machado's absence, in the fifth inning.
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