By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
6:00 AM EDT, July 19, 2012
After the Orioles’ first two games here in Minnesota, silence reigned in the visiting clubhouse at Target Field.
Forget about hearing a pin drop. You could hear the sound of the Orioles’ season plummeting.
But after the team’s 2-1 win over the Twins on Wednesday night – a victory anchored by solid pitching and stellar defense – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” blared through the clubhouse speakers.
You could sense the relief. The players have no doubt sensed that their season has started to slide. And after being dominated by a Minnesota team still with the worst record in the American League, their first two losses here were like a punch to the gut.
On a night when there were three walk-off games around baseball, the Orioles were fine without the drama – content to win a critical contest the old-fashioned way.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter, this team’s ultimate grinder, gave the Orioles 7 1/3 innings – their longest start since the Fourth of July. He also gave one of his best starts of the year, allowing just one run on six hits. You would have to go back to April 24 – when Hunter threw six innings of one-run, three-hit ball – to see a comparable start.
“It’s huge,” first baseman Mark Reynoldssaid. “To come back up here and do that, hold them to one run, when it seemed like they got a hit whenever they wanted to in the first two games.”
And Hunter made two key defensive plays. With runners at first and second with one out in the third, Twins right fielder Ben Revere hit a sharp comebacker that Hunter snagged between his legs and started an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.
Then in the sixth, Hunter chased a dribbler down the first base line, scooped the ball with his glove and in one motion, shoveled it – ball still in the wicket – to Reynolds at first to beat the speedy Revere.
“Merry Christmas,” Hunter joked afterward about snagging the double-play ball. “When the ball is hit that hard, you just put your glove in a general area and hope it lands inside of it somehow. I missed my spot and he put good wood on it. I stuck my glove down and it found my glove, thankfully. Because not too many guys can double those guys up, the ball has to be hit pretty hard.”
The much-maligned Reynolds made a big defensive play of his own with one on and no outs in the ninth, charging a bunt that Brian Dozier popped into the air about 35 feet down the first base line and making a diving catch. That play was critical in helping closer Jim Johnson lock down his 27th save.
“That was unbelievable,” said center fielder Adam Jones of Reynolds’ catch. “Full stretch. I’m screaming from center, ‘Unbelievable play.’ It was just a good well-played game today. I know we had some opportunities to get one or two more runs, but it’s a good thing we have good pitching.”
And Jones provided the offense. His 22ndhomer of the season, a two-run shot in the first inning, was his 13thhomer that has either given the Orioles the lead (10) or tied the game (three). It came off hard-throwing left-hander Francisco Liriano, who struck out 15 in his last outing.
“This is a guy who has a 94 mph fastball that you do not want to miss,” Jones said. “Obviously he had 10 strikeouts because he has a great slider. [I was] amazed that it lasted. … I’m trying to be the right man at the right time.”
It was a game in which the Orioles had several chances to fold, but persevered. It was a game that reminded you about the kind of baseball that they played for the first 2½ months of the season – during which they peaked at 13 games above .500.
The Orioles are only three games over .500, but they recaptured a little of that early-season magic Wednesday night. Now, let's see if they can build on it.
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