The Orioles figured out a simple way Monday night to bust out of an offensive skid that cost them three games at Wrigley Field over the weekend.
Get home -- and start homering. And keep homering, in consecutive at-bats, if possible, until you’ve beaten the opposition into submission and set a little franchise history.
In a 9-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night, the Orioles had 14 hits -- including five home runs by five different players -- to snap their three-game losing streak.
Perhaps more impressive, the first two homers were hit back-to-back in the third inning, and the other three were hit consecutively in the fifth. It was the first time in the Orioles’ 60-year history in which they have had two consecutive homers and three consecutive homers in the same game.
Take that, offensive skid.
"The hits, the runs, all of it," said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was in the middle of the three straight homers in the fifth. "Slumped a little bit there in Chicago, but it's nice to come out, first game this homestand, and score some runs."
Hardy said there may have been some panic among the fan base after three lackluster showings over the weekend, but not within the clubhouse.
“I think everyone else is pressing a lot more than we were,” Hardy said. “We had three rough games at Wrigley, but honestly we came in today, and I don’t feel like anyone was even thinking about that.”
With the win, the American League East-leading Orioles (74-55) maintained their six-game lead over the New York Yankees in the division and improved to 16-5 in their last 21 games at Camden Yards. They’ve now beaten the Rays (64-67) in nine of 13 matchups this season.
“It’s good to be back home,” said Nick Markakis, who snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a third-inning home run. “We had a long road trip, a tough road trip as far as we’re concerned. But it’s something that can get us going. A long homestand here, it’s a good way to start it off.”
With the first day of school Monday for many Baltimore-area kids, the announced crowd was just 15,516, the smallest at home since the team drew 13,478 against the Texas Rangers on July 2.
But those who showed witnessed a stunning power display by the most prolific home run-hitting team in the major leagues. The Orioles have hit 168 home runs this year, 24 ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays for the most in the AL.
“Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before they broke out,” said Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who allowed just one unearned run, three hits and two walks in seven innings. “And I’m glad it came tonight.”
After managing just four runs in a sweep by the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, the Orioles scored six in one inning Monday -- with five coming on three swings in a nine-pitch sequence.
With no outs and the Orioles up, 4-1, in the fifth, left fielder Delmon Young hit a three-run shot to deep left field against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. J.J. Hardy followed five pitches later with a home run to right-center field, his eighth of the season. It chased Odorizzi (9-11), who allowed a career-high eight runs in just four-plus innings.
Kirby Yates replaced Odorizzi and, on his third pitch, served up Chris Davis’ 22nd homer of the season. It was the first time the Orioles had hit three straight homers since Ryan Flaherty, Hardy and Markakis did it against the Rangers on May 10, 2012.
Nick Hundley broke the three-homer streak with a single in the fifth, guaranteeing that every starter would have at least one hit on the night.
“It's fun, but, you know, when Davis went deep on the third one, if I was Hundley, I wouldn't have liked that because I would've been trying to hit four,” said Young, who also had a double and a single Monday. “But I'm glad he got a hit out of it.”
The Orioles' first power surge came in the third when Markakis hit a two-run homer to give the club a 2-1 lead. Steve Pearce followed with his 15th homer of the season, extending his career-high-tying eight-game hitting streak. During that span, Pearce has five doubles and four homers.
The last time the Orioles had multiple back-to-back homers was May 27, 2008 against the Yankees when Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez and then Luke Scott and Millar achieved the feat.
Monday’s power show wasn’t really needed with the way Tillman threw, continuing a run this month in which he is 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA. But he did have to pitch from behind for a brief period.
The Rays scored first, aided by two plays that the Orioles defense should have made, but didn’t.
Yunel Escobar led off the third inning with a grounder to the left side of the infield. Hardy ranged far into the hole, fielded the ball and made a long, one-hop throw. Pearce stretched for it at first, but the ball hit off his glove and bounced away for a single.
Jose Molina then hit a sharp grounder to Hardy that could have been a double play, but second baseman Jonathan Schoop failed to catch Hardy’s feed, and the ball rolled into the outfield as Escobar advanced to third.
Tillman then induced Sean Rodriguez to hit into a double play, but Escobar scored the game’s first run. It was the last one Tillman (11-5) would give up. In his last 13 starts -- 11 of them quality -- Tillman is 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA.
“It comes back to being confident in my delivery,” Tillman said. “It has a lot to do with the mechanics, and that’s been a big part of getting back on track for me. When you trust your delivery, you can throw every pitch on any count. That’s a big part of it for me.”
The Orioles made up for the defensive lapse in the third with several gems later in the night. None was more impressive than center fielder Adam Jones’ leaping grab at the wall of Evan Longoria’s potential three-run homer in the sixth. Jones then fired a bullet to second base to get Matt Joyce attempting to tag up.
“I don't know what was better, the catch or the throw,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
The crowd may have been small, but it was spirited.
It gave Jones a standing ovation as he came off the field in the top of the sixth and then cheered him again as he led off in the bottom of the inning. His teammates also were impressed.
“It’s easy to get caught up in robbing a home run,” Markakis said. “To do that and bounce off the wall and make a one-hop throw like he did, that’s what we work for every day, and it all pays off. It was probably one of the better plays I’ve seen him make.”
After a little rough patch in Chicago, the Orioles picked up a win that was punctuated by home runs, solid defense and good pitching. It’s what they said they’ve come to expect -- no matter what others might think.
“It's good because it seemed like y'all went in panic mode when we got swept in Chicago. We weren't scoring many runs, but it happens, and then we're back in our division at home facing a guy we've seen before, a team we play, we know their tendencies and everything,” Young said. "We want to extend the lead and then try to close in on the best record, so we've got a couple things that we're trying to get done here.”
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