The Orioles opened their first road trip of the year — a three-city, 10-game swing that will take them to two countries and four time zones — under a closed roof at Rogers Center on Friday night.
That set the stage for a home run derby against the Toronto Blue Jays that saw the teams combine for seven homers, including four in a 10-batter span.
But it was third baseman Wilson Betemit's single up the middle that proved to be the most important hit of the night, a two-out, bases-loaded, eighth-inning hit that sent the Orioles to a 7-5 win in front of an announced 21,988.
“If you go back, it was the little things, not the home runs,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Playing the game within the game, I thought, was instrumental.”
In the eighth with runners on first and second, the Blue Jays pitched around Matt Wieters to face the switch-hitting Betemit.
“It was with the bases loaded,” Betemit said. “I wasn't trying to do too much, just trying to get a good swing and have a good pitch to hit. He threw me a fastball right down the middle.”
Betemit, signed in the offseason to a two-year, $3.15 million guaranteed deal with a vesting option for a third year mainly because of his ability to hit right-handed pitching, delivered the game-winning hit against left-hander Darren Oliver from the right side, where he has hit 31 points lower for his career (.245 vs. .276 from the left side).
“Wilson's had a couple of big hits for us right-handed, and I know exactly what their manager was thinking,” Showalter said. “I would have done the same thing. His better side is left-handed. We were fortunate tonight that things didn't follow the norm.”
The win, just the Orioles' fifth in their past 35 games in Toronto, erased the bad taste from suffering a three-game sweep at home against the New York Yankees.
“We missed some opportunities, but we were in every game [against New York],” said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who had three hits, including one of the Orioles' three homers. “We played our tails off, we were just unable to get the win. Here in our division, it's important to start this road trip off pretty well. We've got a 10-day road trip, so to start off with a win is a good thing.
“It was home run derby tonight,” Jones added. “A lot of balls left the ballpark. We had some timely hitting. Betemit came through and picked up myself and Wieters and the whole team.”
Orioles starter Tommy Hunter, a contact pitcher who allowed zero earned runs in seven innings in his regular-season debut last Saturday, struggled to keep the ball in the park. Hunter allowed four home runs, tying a career high set Aug. 13, 2010, against the Boston Red Sox. In 21 2/3 career innings at Rogers Centre, Hunter has allowed nine homers.
“I give up some runs here,” Hunter said. “It [stinks]. Hopefully, my next start, I can cut down on some of those home runs. I have no idea why it is. I wish I could figure out something about this place. [I've] just got to pitch better, get the ball down, balls aren't going to fly out.”
Second baseman Robert Andino hit his first homer of the season in the fifth inning off Toronto starter Brandon Morrow, one of nine straight Baltimore solo homers since Nick Markakis' two-run shot on Opening Day.
Kelly Johnson (first inning), Colby Rasmus (fifth), Yunel Escobar (fifth) and Edwin Encarnacion (sixth) hit solo homers off Hunter.
“You go back and pretty much all of those were mistakes and that's where they should have been hit,” Showalter said. “I'm sure the pitchers would tell you that. This is a big, strong man's league, and you make those mistakes and they're not singles and doubles. They end up where the grass doesn't grow — or where the turf doesn't lay down. Usually, if you can hold them to solos, you've got a shot. I think that was key for us tonight. That's a tribute to not walking a lot [of batters].”
The Blue Jays' other run off Hunter came in a miscue-filled fourth inning. After Jose Bautista's one-out single, Nolan Reimold misplayed a liner to left, which rolled to the wall and allowed Bautista to score from first. Later in the inning, Eric Thames hit a comebacker to Hunter, but Chris Davis mishandled the throw to first.
Hunter, who allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits over six innings with two strikeouts and two walks, was chased from the game after issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh, but right-handed reliever Darren O'Day got the Orioles out of the inning.
With the Orioles trailing 5-4 in the eighth, Betemit — who was 1-for-9 in the three-game series against the Yankees — slapped the game-winning hit just to the left of the mound and between the middle infielders, scoring Reimold and Markakis. Reimold, who had two hits, added a solo homer in the top of the ninth.
Pedro Strop tossed a scoreless eighth, but closer Jim Johnson brought the would-be winning run to the plate in the ninth. With two on and two out, Johnson induced a long flyout to right from Escobar for his third save of the season.
“We went back and forth, our lineup kept us in it,” said Johnson, who converted his 11th straight save opportunity dating to last season. “Nolan had the big tack-on run there. And it was a good way to start this road trip.”