Hunter guides Orioles to 8-2 win over Twins
RHP allows just two unearned runs to Minnesota; O's boosted by three solo homers, Paulino's big day
Tommy Hunter strikes out Minnesota's Denard Span in the first inning. Hunter pitched seven-plus innings, allowing six hits and two unearned runs to pick up the win for the Orioles, who beat the Twins, 8-2. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron / April 7, 2012)
These Orioles have been through this before — plenty of times — a quick start only to have it followed by a humbling collapse and another disastrous season.
So Saturday night's 8-2 beating of the Minnesota Twins that featured another superb starting pitching performance as well as three solo homers from the meat of the order and a four-hit night from backup catcher-turned-designated hitter Ronny Paulino — yes, Ronny Paulino — will be accepted for what is was: a second fine game in a marathon of a season.
“It's two out of 162, but it's a good way to start,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We had good starts to start the season last year, so we'll see if it continues.”
Last year, the Orioles began 6-1 before dropping eight in a row on their way to a 14th consecutive sub-.500 season. That early surge, though, didn't feature two starting pitchers beginning the year with consecutive seven-inning outings.
You have to go all the way back to 2001 to find consecutive starts that lasted at least seven innings to open an Orioles season (Pat Hentgen, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson all did it).
On Friday's Opening Day, Jake Arrieta threw seven shutout innings in a 4-2 win over the Twins. Saturday, Tommy Hunter (1-0) tossed seven-plus, allowing six hits, one walk and two runs (both unearned). When he walked off the field in the eighth with the bases loaded and no outs, the announced Camden Yards crowd of 31,532 gave him a standing ovation.
Hunter was asked after the game whether he savored that moment.
“I got 33, 34 more starts, I hope,” Hunter said. “After that, we'll look back and see how it is.”
So the tone has been set. Two games don't make a season. Especially ones against a Twins club that was the worst in the American League last year and seemingly has picked up where it left off last September.
Minnesota did plenty of self-inflicted damage, with left fielder Josh Willingham committing two errors that led to two runs and the Twins failing to execute several other makable plays. Twins starter Francisco Liriano (0-1) struck out the side in the first but was tagged for six runs (five earned) in four innings.
The Orioles (2-0) have beaten the Twins six consecutive times — dating to last August — by a collective score of 36-8.
“They're not going to make many [mistakes] and you're not going to get a lot in the major leagues, but when they do, you better take advantage and not assume anything,” Showalter said. “It's one thing to get the opportunities and another to take advantage of it.”
The Orioles hit three solo home runs — one each from their third through fifth hitters, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. Markakis' seventh-inning shot against Jared Burton was his second in two days, the eighth time in his career he has homered in consecutive games.
“If you look at the progression of especially Matt and Jonesy, each year they've gotten a little better offensively,” Showalter said. “We hope that trend continues. They're off to a good start.”
The real offensive hero of the night, however, was Paulino, who was serving as the designated hitter because of his career .330 average against lefties.
With Liriano on the mound, Showalter decided to play the numbers — and Paulino made it pay off with four hits (two against Liriano) and two runs. Paulino had a double in the fourth that set up a two-run single by Robert Andino. The husky Paulino also scored from first base in the third inning when Willingham misplayed another single by Andino.
“Exciting — especially when we got the win,” said Paulino, who was signed to a minor league deal and missed the first three weeks of spring training because of visa issues but made the team because of an injury to Taylor Teagarden. “First game in this city, making a first impression is the best. It's a good feeling.”
The last time an Oriole had four hits in his club debut was when Sam Horn burst onto the scene April 9, 1990. Impressive team debuts are nothing new for Paulino. In his first start as a New York Met last year, he had five hits.