Orioles right-hander Alfredo Simon can’t be sure when he’ll next pitch in a major league game, or even when he’ll be back on U.S. soil.
On Saturday night, he threw like a man wanting to leave a lasting impression while helping the Orioles’ end their season-long, nine-game losing streak with a 6-5 win against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.
Simon departs Sunday at 7 p.m. for his native Dominican Republic and will attend a court hearing Monday that the Orioles hope will clear him of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of his cousin on New Year’s Day.
“I am going to go just one day and come back Monday night,” Simon said. “So I think everything is going to be fine.”
However, with the uncertainty that has surrounded this case since he first turned himself in as a murder suspect in early January -- he has never been charged with a crime but was jailed for nearly two months -- nothing is guaranteed until he returns to the U.S. That, he said, was not on his mind when he made his ninth appearance and second start of the season on Saturday.
“When I was there [on the mound], I don’t think about that. I just get my job done and do it the best I can so my family could see my game tonight [on television],” Simon said. “I wanted to do it for them over there. And do it the best I can. And when I show up [Sunday] over there, they’re waiting for me and that makes me feel good. I don’t really think about that thing.”
Simon (2-2) made sure there was little drama while he was on the mound before an announced crowd of 24,835. Mixing in a mid-90s, darting fastball with a nasty splitter, slider and curve, he retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing a single to Michael Brantley in the fourth.
Simon had just one tough inning -- a two-run sixth courtesy of a double by Brantley -- while allowing three hits and one walk and striking out five in seven innings. He said he was ready to come out because he was dealing with some tenderness in his right hamstring, which wasn’t nearly as bad as the pain that sent him to the disabled list in June.
“It’s a little hurt, yeah, but I can handle it like that, so everything is fine,” he said.
Simon threw just 79 pitches, including an impressive 56 for strikes in his longest outing since Sept. 23, 2008. Since then, he has dealt with elbow surgery, a switch to the bullpen and then the legal troubles that kept him out of the majors this year until May 21.
“I saw him as a closer last year. That's all I remember out of him,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He’s got a good mix of four pitches, and he threw them all for strikes. … He was throwing around 94 mph almost the whole night, and he has that split-finger that he usually used when he was closing games. He did a great job versus us tonight.”
Things did not go as smoothly for Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg who melted down in the ninth with a four-run lead, walking the bases loaded and surrendering a two-out, three-run double to Orlando Cabrera.
“I think Kevin just had a lot of borderline pitches that could have gone either way and turned some counts around,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We had a ball that Cabrera slices over in right-center. He’s a pitch away from getting out of that inning without any runs given up.”
Showalter pulled Gregg -- he said it was more about Gregg’s 31 pitches thrown in the inning than it was a lack of faith in his closer -- and summoned lefty Michael Gonzalez. Signed to be the club’s closer before last year only to lose the role because of injury and inefficiency, Gonzalez got left-handed-hitting Grady Sizemore to hit a game-ending ground out.
It was Gonzalez’s second save as an Oriole and his first since the third game of last season.
“Of course, I’ve always loved that. It's just that adrenaline rush that you love,” Gonzalez said about entering with the game on the line. “Today was one of those things where we weren't going to lose. We had gone too far, had done too well during the game, that we weren't going to lose, and we had that same mindset.”
Gonzalez’s three-pitch save gave the Orioles (37-54) their first win in 13 days and their first victory against the Indians (49-43) in six tries this season.
“I haven’t played music in like two weeks in the clubhouse,” said center fielder Adam Jones, who had two RBIs. “I think it was good. Everybody was high-fiving each other. Just got over that hump in getting the win. I think that can really help us out. Let’s try to get on a nine-game winning streak.”
It was just the second time in the past 29 games that an Orioles starter made it through seven innings. And it was the club’s first quality start since Mitch Atkins allowed one run in six innings at Texas on July 5.
The Orioles broke the skid in part because of right fielder Nick Markakis, who had two doubles, a solo homer and three runs scores in four at-bats -- his third career game with three extra-base hits and his first since 2008. The home run, his eighth of the season, broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth.
Markakis is now hitting .400 (56-for-140) in his last 32 games.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen a stretch like that from a player,” Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds said. “He’s got his whole mechanical thing worked out now, and he’s going out there confident, and he’s swinging the bat well. It’s fun to watch.”
Markakis scored an insurance run in the eighth when he doubled and then dashed home on Jones’ double against lefty reliever Rafael Perez. The Orioles added two more when Felix Pie doubled down the left-field line with the bases loaded against relieverFrank Herrmann.
Koji Uehara retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, but Gregg made every run count with his rough outing.
The Orioles jumped on the board in the first, continuing a good day for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who agreed to a three-year contract extension worth slightly more than $22 million early Saturday. Leading off the first, Hardy doubled off the right-field wall against Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco (8-7). He scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by Jones.
The Orioles added a second run in the fourth when Markakis doubled, moved to third on a groundout and scored when Derrek Lee hit a two-out single to left -- Lee’s fourth hit in 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
The rare victory was filled with unlikely heroes, but none as impressive as Simon, given what he’s facing this week.
“Oh man, this guy is unbelievable. He’s got a big heart,” said Pie, one of Simon’s best friends on the team. “This guy, I can't explain. Every day he goes out there and fights, that's just what he did today. I hope everything will be good with him so he can play baseball and not think about that.”
Showalter said all players have to separate their personal lives from the jobs they have to do on the field. But Simon is in a unique spot.
“Where his life is concerned, where he is right now, it’s a little different scale,” Showalter said. “I’m sure he feels a little better getting on the plane tomorrow after having a good outing.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun