By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
11:37 PM EDT, September 17, 2011
For 14 seasons, Camden Yards has been devoid of playoff hopes in September.
Now, that malaise is spreading to the visitors' dugout.
With a 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night, the Orioles (62-88) have won four consecutive games against teams clinging to postseason dreams. They have one more game against the Angels on Sunday, then try to ruin the baseball lives of the American League wild-card-leading Boston Red Sox next week at Fenway Park.
"I think it more so just shows the type of people we are as a team," said Orioles rookie left-hander Zach Britton, who allowed just three hits, two walks and a run over seven excellent innings. "We could easily have just kind of thrown in the towel, and we're not doing that. We know that these teams have something to play for, and we are playing them hard."
The Angels, who are 41/2 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West race, surrendered quickly on a chilly night before an announced crowd of 31,099.
The Orioles sent 10 batters to the plate in the first against Los Angeles starter Ervin Santana, who had taken a no-hit bid into the sixth in his past outing at Camden Yards in July. On Saturday, Santana's no-hit chances ended after the second batter, when J.J. Hardy crushed a fastball to left for a two-run shot and his career-best 27th homer of the season.
"It's nice. It's nice that it came on a win, too," Hardy said.
It wasn't the only significant homer of the inning. Mark Reynolds added a three-run blast against Santana for his team-leading 34th. Reynolds tied Miguel Tejada (2004) for most homers in a season by an Oriole in the 2000s.
Santana promptly plunked the next batter, Nolan Reimold. The real eyebrow-raiser, though, came two innings later, when Reynolds stepped to the plate again. Santana threw a high fastball that struck Reynolds in the left side of the helmet.
"Anytime anyone gets hit on the head -- even if it's on the other team -- it's a bad feeling," Hardy said. "It kind of makes you sick to your stomach."
Reynolds, who was beaned in August 2010 while with the Arizona Diamondbacks and started the next day, immediately bounced to his feet. He went to first base and played an inning of defense before being pulled in the top of the fifth.
"He wasn't having any symptoms; everything was fine. But [we] just wanted to be on the safe side when you are talking about that," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Just not going to take any chances with it."
Reynolds was taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center for a precautionary CT scan, and Showalter said Reynolds will be re-evaluated Sunday.
Showalter wouldn't suggest that Santana's pitch to Reynolds was intentional, saying: "I don't think anyone can sit here and know that for sure. But I understand what it looks like, especially with the circumstances. You know, Santana has got pretty good command."
Regardless, Hardy said he wasn't pleased with where the pitch was thrown.
"I didn't like the ball up at Reynolds' head at all. After throwing a slider, coming up and in like that, I don't like that at all," Hardy said. "Who knows? He's trying to throw it in and get good control of the plate. He didn't have great control early on, either."
Although there were no further incidents, both sides were warned by umpire Alfonso Marquez, who was behind the plate for emergency purposes. Marquez was moved from second base after plate umpire Brian O'Nora was forced to leave when he was struck in the right ankle by a pre-game warm-up pitch from Britton.
Initial X-Rays were inconclusive, and O'Nora will remain in Baltimore until Monday, when he will be examined at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The pain delay lasted 14 minutes before the game began with three umpires.
The warm-up missile was really Britton's only errant toss of the night.
The 23-year-old retired the first eight batters he faced and didn't give up a hit until Mike Trout's infield single in the fifth. Trout moved to third on Erick Aybar's single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Wilson.
That was the extent of the trouble experienced by Britton (10-10). He struck out a career-high seven while getting his first win since Sept. 2.
"I know I'm capable of it. The last couple outings, it just came down to fastball command. It was better tonight," said Britton, who has tied injured righty Jake Arrieta for the team lead in wins. "Obviously, it can still improve, but it allowed me to go deeper in the game. So I feel like I've had good stuff. It's about putting it together, and I'm starting to do that."
After the rough beginning, Santana (11-12) settled down and pitched six scoreless innings. The Orioles picked up an additional run in the eighth against reliever Garrett Richards when Trout misplayed Chris Davis' double to right, allowing Matt Wieters to score from first.
The Angels (82-69) struck back in the ninth on Vernon Wells' RBI triple against Jim Johnson. The inning included a highlight-reel catch by Nick Markakis, who jumped against the right-field wall to take away extra bases from Torii Hunter.
The outcome was seemingly decided in the first, however, after the Orioles ripped Santana and put the Angels in a serious hole.
"You could just kind of see it in their faces right there," Britton said. "Those guys are going for the hunt, and then they give up five in the first and you could see the defeated look in them, just a little bit. But it feels good to take some games from teams in the hunt."
The Orioles go for the three-game sweep Sunday -- which would be their first at home since June 6-8 against the Oakland Athletics.
They can also add to their growing resume as a pennant-race spoiler, though Showalter is downplaying that role.
"You want to present yourself well, regardless of who you are playing. It's more about presenting the Orioles well than it is trying to beat a team still in it," Showalter said. "Down deep, we are all jealous [of] where they are, playing meaningful games in September. We are not trying to make someone's life miserable, it is just that we are trying to make ours more palatable."
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