Taylor Teagarden hadn't been around the Orioles this season to be a part of the team's extra-inning heroics, home-plate celebrations and shaving-cream pies.
Opening Day for the injury-riddled catcher came Saturday — the team's 87th game of the season — when he was activated from the disabled list before the Orioles' played the Detroit Tigers
With a back injury keeping him out since spring training, he hadn't played in a major league game in 11 months. He hadn't hit a big-league home run in nearly two years.
Teagarden was the final bench player to enter the game when he joined the four-hour, 43-minute marathon in the 11th inning. Two innings later, in his second at bat of the season, he hit a two-run walk-off homer to give the Orioles an 8-6 victory over the Tigers in front of an announced 43,215 at Camden Yards.
It marked the Orioles' 10th straight extra-inning win this season, and they are 4-0 in games of 13 innings or longer, which includes 17- and 15-inning wins.
“This is a scratch-and-claw team,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There's nobody in the dugout going, ‘Oh my goodness, we're playing this many innings in this much heat.' Everybody was enjoying it. They don't take themselves too seriously, and they love the competition. Especially against a team with that type of talent, and quite frankly, that type of payroll.”
And Teagarden served as the most unlikely hero. He was clearly overmatched in his first at bat, striking out on four 93-mph fastballs from Jose Valverde with the potential winning run on second base.
But when Teagarden stepped to the plate again with one on and two outs in the 13th, it was a different result. He took Joaquin Benoit's 1-2 pitch deep to right field — the ball landed in the corner between the grounds crew shed and the out-of-town scoreboard — and he looked around for an umpire to signal home run. He then trotted home, tossing his helmet before jumping into a mob at home plate.
“Oh man, I wanted to run home as fast as I could,” Teagarden said. “I never had a walk-off home run. From my point of view it looked like a double. I thought I hit it off the scoreboard right there. I was surprised they made the call so quick. I was just like, ‘Get me home.'”
For a player who received three epidural injections in his back and considered having surgery — spending most of the season in and out of doctors offices and rehabbing in Sarasota, Fla. — it was a special culmination.
“I never thought I would see this day,” Teagarden said. “I felt like it was miles away when I was told the situation health-wise, for me. I'm just so glad to be somewhat pain-free and to be able to play in a big league game. There's so many things you have to do to prepare and play at this level. I'm just so happy to be here right now.”
And as he gave a postgame TV interview in front of the Orioles' dugout , Teagarden received three shaving cream pies to the face from teammates Robert Andino, Mark Reynolds and Adam Jones.
“Got me good,” Teagarden said. “Never saw it coming.”
Three batters before Teagarden's game-winning shot, slumping shortstop J.J. Hardy broke an 0-for-28 slump with a game-tying solo homer to left, his first since June 28.
“It's exhausting, but it's exciting when you win, for sure,” Hardy said. “It was a lot of fun to jump on Teagarden there after he stepped on home plate.”
The Tigers blew two one-run leads in extra-innings. With the Orioles down to their final out in the 11th inning, Jones slapped a looping single to left off Valverde to drive in Nick Markakis and tie the game at 5. Markakis opened the inning with a leadoff double, his career-high third of the game.
The Orioles were unable to preserve a fine start from left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, blowing a three-run ninth-inning lead with closer Jim Johnson on the mound.
“Obviously with a three-run lead, that shouldn't happen,” Johnson said. “I was obviously upset about it. I got over it by the 12th, and I was out there rooting for the guys. You can see what happened, a great team win.”
Johnson, a first-time All-Star who led the majors with 26 saves at the break, had only blown one save prior to Saturday (the Orioles also ended up winning that game). Extending this game led to the Orioles using seven relievers.
“The biggest problem I had with blowing it was we had to throw all the extra guys out of the bullpen,” Johnson said. “Obviously, that's on me. … But to see the guys come back and battle, you see everybody contributing.”
Chen, who left the game leading 4-1 after six innings, allowed just one run on two hits with five strikeouts and two walks. At one point, he retired 15 Tigers in a row, Prince Fielder's two-out RBI double in the first being Detroit's last hit until two outs in the sixth inning.
It was the second time that the Orioles bullpen couldn't preserve a lead for Chen in his last three starts. Two starts ago, Chen took a perfect game into the sixth inning in Seattle and left with 4-1 lead, but the Orioles needed a ninth-inning homer from Robert Andino to win 5-4.
But on Saturday night — as afternoon turned to night — the Orioles had another reason to celebrate.
“A lot of things went on that game,” Showalter said. “I wouldn't know where to start. A lot of people would pull the dirt in around them and say ‘Woe is me,' but I'm hoping that's a ‘W' you look back on at the end of the season and say that's pretty special.”