As the temperature rises every summer in Baltimore, so does the number of balls that carry out of Camden Yards. Hits similar to ones that landed at the warning track two weeks ago are now finding their way into the seats. And the Orioles lineup is built to take full advantage of such a summer swoon.
The Orioles led the major leagues with 46 home runs in June, and they continued their power surge into July. They hit three homers, including Nelson Cruz's 26th of the season on his 34th birthday, in an 8-3 victory over the struggling Texas Rangers on Tuesday night in front of an announced 19,150.
The Orioles also received a gritty spot start from T.J. McFarland. He gave the club five much-needed innings, which was a career high for the left-hander, to earn his first major league win as a starter.
“Everything has been good — pitching, defense and offense,” said Cruz, who is tied with the Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu for the major league lead in home runs. “I think we are really showing what we're capable of doing as a team.”
In the first two games of the four-game series, the Orioles have hit seven home runs. They've outscored the Rangers, 15-4.
The Orioles rank second in the majors with 103 home runs, trailing only the Toronto Blue Jays' 110. They now have hit multiple homers in five consecutive games and 24 of their last 41.
And the Orioles hitters are sensing that the ball is starting to fly off their bats.
“From one through nine, there's home run potential,” said catcher Caleb Joseph, who hit a two-run homer in the second inning. “Now we just need to try and backspin balls that, if we miss them, [can] go out. I don't think anybody here is trying to hit home runs. We're just trying to backspin balls, and with the confines and the weather, [they're going out]. We've got a bunch of big, strong guys on this team. It's been good, and we'll try and keep barrel on balls and hope they keep flying out.”
With the win — their fourth in five games against the Rangers this season — the Orioles (44-39) remained one game back of the American League East-leading Blue Jays, who beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-1, on Tuesday.
The Orioles hit two homers in the first inning for the second consecutive game, and left fielder Steve Pearce homered in the opening frame both nights from the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Pearce turned on a full-count delivery from Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez in the first inning, hitting his 10th homer of the season just over the left-field fence in front of the foul pole after it deflected off Texas left fielder Shin-Soo Choo's glove. Pearce's homer was confirmed following a 41-second crew chief replay review.
Two batters later, Cruz lined a low 1-1 delivery into the Orioles bullpen in left-center field, tying him with Rafael Palmeiro (1998) for third place for most home runs in club history before the All-Star break.
After the Rangers rallied to tie the game in the top of the second inning, Joseph put the Orioles up, 4-2, with his two-run homer in the bottom half.
With two outs in the inning, Joseph took a 3-1 pitch into the first row of seats in left field for his third career major league homer.
Since right-hander Bud Norris went on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a right groin strain, the Orioles were able to push their rotation back a day because of Thursday's day off. But they needed a spot starter for Tuesday's game.
McFarland (1-1) had made just one previous major league start — a 22/3-inning performance against the New York Yankees on June 28, 2013 — and his careerlong outing was a 42/3-inning relief appearance June 8 against the Oakland Athletics. But he was the team's best option to give the Orioles enough innings to avoid overworking the bullpen.
McFarland allowed two runs and seven hits in five innings with two strikeouts and no walks. He threw 68 pitches, one shy of his career high.
“We would have taken that beforehand,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We felt like if we could keep the ball on the ground, we could stay engaged in the game. It's hard to do with that many right-handed hitters, but he was good.”
The Rangers (37-46), who have lost 11 of their last 13 games, scored their only two runs off McFarland on rookie Adam Rosales' two-run double in the second inning.
“Coming off the bullpen, it's tough,” Joseph said. “People don't understand. He came out and threw quality strikes early. He did a really good job with the changeup. … That's about as good as you can get for a spot start. He picked us up. We needed him today, and he did an amazing job.”
McFarland, a sinkerball pitcher who relies on keeping the ball on the ground, was the beneficiary of two inning-ending double plays, including one that ended his final inning in the fifth.
After he allowed back-to-back singles to put two runners on base with no outs, McFarland induced an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play of the bat of Elvis Andrus. After the game, Showalter said that Andrus would have been McFarland's last batter, regardless of the outcome, as his pitch count crept near 70.
“I threw a lot of strikes and basically just let the defense help me out,” McFarland said. “I got a lot of ground balls, a lot of double plays, and I can't stress it enough that the defense really helped me out.”
Texas did not help itself defensively.
After Martinez loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, Joseph hit a ground ball to shortstop that could have started an inning-ending double play. But Andrus couldn't come up with the ball cleanly, and J.J. Hardy scored to give the Orioles a 5-2 lead.
The next batter, leadoff hitter Nick Markakis, then laced a two-run double down the right-field line, and Pearce's sacrifice fly to left field put the Orioles ahead, 8-2.
Martinez (1-6) allowed eight runs (six earned) and seven hits in five innings as he extended his winless streak to seven starts.
Orioles right-hander Ryan Webb allowed a run on Chris Gimenez's RBI groundout after yielding back-to-back singles to open the sixth, but that was the only run the Orioles bullpen allowed in four innings.
Right-handers Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day and left-hander Zach Britton each worked a scoreless relief inning, combining to allow just one hit and record four strikeouts in the final three innings.
“It worked out well,” Showalter said. “We felt like they'd be right-handed against T.J., which I would have, too, and we felt like we had some pieces in the bullpen right-handed that could minimize some damage.”
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