Betemit caps Orioles' ninth-inning rally with walk-off homer

The Baltimore Sun

As Wilson Betemit rounded third, he flung his batting helmet in the air and charged headfirst into the mob awaiting him at home plate.

A remarkable comeback struck quickly -- the stadium siren blaring and the seating bowl fervent -- with the Orioles, down to their final two outs, rallying Sunday for a 5-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards in front of an announced 31,793.

Betemit capped a five-run ninth inning with a three-run shot -- the first walk-off homer of his career -- taking a fastball from Oakland closer Grant Balfour (0-1) onto the groundskeepers' shed roof in right-center field and giving the Orioles their first win on a walk-off home run since Aug. 10.

Another strong pitching performance and some savvy defensive plays nearly weren't enough to salvage a series win against Oakland. For eight innings, the Orioles were shut out by 38-year-old starter Bartolo Colon.

But these Orioles seem to have a flair for the dramatic, winning their fifth game this season when trailing after seven innings.

Albeit a rarity over the past 14 years, meaningful baseball in Baltimore has survived the April chill. And with the win, the Orioles (14-8) stayed atop the American League East and moved to six games above .500 for the first time in nearly seven seasons, since July 20, 2005.

"It beats the alternative," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's like the right side of the earth. I just like seeing a lot of our guys getting a return for what they've been putting into it from a team standpoint. This group has a good relationship with each other. We're going to need contributions from everybody to have the type of year we want to have."

The win sealed a 5-1 record on this six-game homestand and gave the Orioles their fifth series victory in seven series this season.

In the Orioles' clubhouse after the game, calm followed the chaos, as players packed their bags for a train ride to New York to start a six-game road trip against the division-heavyweight New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

"It's definitely early," said Mark Reynolds, who turned in one of several key defensive plays in his first start at first this season. "A lot of baseball left to play, a lot of tough games coming up for us, but it changes your attitude and your mood coming to the yard knowing that these games mean something still and we're still right in the thick of things heading out of April.

"We have a tough road trip coming up, and we've got a pretty tough schedule coming up," Reynolds said. "We're going to give it hell and play our tails off and see where we are."

The Orioles came into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 2-0 against Colon, but infield singles by J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones chased Colon from the game and brought the winning run to the plate in catcher Matt Wieters with one out.

Wieters came into that at-bat having gone just 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position, but he took a 1-2 curveball from Balfour the opposite way off the bottom of the left-center-field fence for a double, tying the game at 2.

"I still knew he had the breaking ball in his back pocket, so I was just really trying to read it and tried to put good swing on something, tried to get something to the outfield to maybe tie up the game," Wieters said. "I was able to put a good swing on it. I felt like I had some good swings all day but finally found the barrel."

After Balfour intentionally walked Chris Davis to set up forceouts at first, second and third, Betemit pulled a 3-1 fastball over the outside part of the plate just to the left of the 373-foot mark in right-center field, prompting a celebration at home plate.

"I didn't know [it was a home run]," Betemit said. "I just swung at it. I didn't know the ball is gone. I just hit the ball, and I tried to put it in play."

The Orioles' ninth-inning rally saved right-handed starter Tommy Hunter from getting the loss. Hunter gave the Orioles their 13th start of six or more innings; they are 12-1 in those games.

Hunter set the tone for the Orioles' 57th straight win when allowing two or fewer runs, throwing seven strong innings and surrendering just two runs on seven hits. He struck out two and walked just one, his lowest walk total since his first start of the season April 7.

The A's (11-12) didn't have many scoring opportunities against Hunter, who tossed five scoreless innings before allowing an RBI double to Yoenis Cespedes in the sixth and a homer to Seth Smith to open the seventh.

"You get deeper in games and you make runs matter and you make runs stand up, there's a [morale] that develops with a club," Showalter said. "Instead of constantly going, 'How much is going to be enough?' you always try to create a margin of error. When you get a tack-on run, it means something. Tommy Hunter pitched seven innings today, and that's as key as anything that happened today."

The Orioles turned in four outstanding defensive plays throughout the middle innings in a scoreless game, none bigger than Nolan Reimold's homer-robbing catch of a ball off the bat of Kurt Suzuki in the fifth.

Suzuki put a charge in Hunter's delivery, but Reimold reached over the left-field fence, extended his glove and brought the ball back into the yard.

Right after that, Jones made a nice backhand sliding catch on Eric Sogard's looper to shallow center.

In the fourth inning, Reynolds started a nice 3-6-3 double play, diving to his left on the edge of the infield grass after holding the runner on, tossing to second, then taking Hardy's throw to complete the double play.

Nick Markakis also threw out Smith at second after Smith's hit bounced off the first-base bag and into shallow right.

"At least I was down in the zone," Hunter said of his outing. "It's still a work in progress. There were a lot of great plays tonight. It was a team win. We pitched all right and played unbelievable defense and hit the ball towards the end of the game."

Hunter was in control against an A's offense with a .203 team batting average -- worst in the AL -- until Cespedes lined a double into the left-field corner, scoring Josh Reddick, who had hit a two-out single, from first in the sixth. Smith then took an 89 mph fastball over the left-center-field fence, the ball landing in the Orioles' bullpen, in the seventh.

The Orioles' bullpen continued to shine, with Darren O'Day and Pedro Strop pitching scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Strop (3-1) put runners at first and second with one out but escaped the jam, setting the stage for a comeback the next half-inning that injected life into Camden Yards.

"Look at the crowd today, yesterday," Hunter said. "I'm sure all the fans are starting to get excited about it. We're excited. Don't get me wrong about it. It's fun to win. It's fun to play baseball. That's what we're going to continue to do, and hopefully the fans come out and support us. It will be fun."

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