With nearly two dozen Orioles greats in attendance to commemorate the franchise's 60th anniversary, manager Buck Showalter felt a certain pressure for his club to perform Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals.
As the Orioles wore cream-colored replicas of the inaugural 1954 club's uniforms, the organization welcomed back 23 Orioles Hall of Famers with an elaborate postgame ceremony, complete with a fireworks display and laser-light show.
But the fireworks started early. The current Orioles were a fitting opening act, hitting a season-high six homers in their most dominating performance of the season, a 12-2 win over the defending National League champion before an announced near-sellout Camden Yards crowd of 43,743.
As they walked back into the home clubhouse after their most lopsided victory of the year, Orioles players were welcomed by Orioles of the past.
“I still got chills. We just came out of the runway, and all of the [Orioles] Hall of Famers are greeting our guys as they come off the field,” Showalter said. “That's pretty cool. ... I think if you take pictures [tonight], those are keepers.”
This year's club, which leads the American League East by five games over the New York Yankees, is attempting to make its own history. Since July 1, the Orioles are 23-10, and with Friday's win, the Orioles (66-49) are a season-high 17 games over .500.
“This last month has been crazy for us,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who hit the first homer of the night, a three-run blast over the Orioles bullpen in left-center. “It's been hard. It's been a grind. It's really putting us in a position where we know we can play baseball. It's always good to have one of those games like that, when everything's falling, base hits are falling. We're hitting the ball out of the park.”
After averaging just 2.5 runs over their past 11 home games, the Orioles set a season high at Camden Yards and scored their most since a 14-5 win at the New York Yankees on April 8, their eighth game of the season.
“We got it out of our system now,” Machado said. “It's something that is good to have every once in a while, but we've still got 50-some games left and we need to continue to keep swinging those bats and playing the D and pitching.”
One Orioles Hall of Famer was noticeably absent, but former Orioles manager Earl Weaver would have been proud of the club's showing. In managing some of the best teams in Orioles history, Weaver, who died in January 2013, preached the importance of pitching, defense and the three-run homer.
The Orioles ran out to a 12-0 lead partly because of a pair of three-run homers by Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has struggled this season to duplicate his power of recent years but who on Friday night recorded his first multihomer game of the season.
“I'm just trying to hit the ball hard,” Hardy said of his first multihomer game since June 1, 2013. “You can't try and hit home runs. It's just not going to work. I'm just trying to hit the ball hard. Tonight was nice.”
The Orioles made batting practice out of St. Louis pitching, adding home runs from Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Ryan Flaherty.
The offensive explosion overshadowed a fine performance by right-hander Chris Tillman, who held the Cardinals scoreless for 6 2/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer to catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the seventh. After Pierzynski's shot, Tillman walked off the field to a standing ovation.
“I felt good,” Tillman said. “I think it was one of those nights where everything kind of clicked for me and I was able to execute most of my pitches. … It always helps [to get a big lead]. You're able to jump out like that and … a pitcher's job is to go out there and make pitches, and I think it makes it a little bit easier.”
Tillman (9-5) allowed just four hits on the night, striking out seven batters and walking one. Tillman now has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 12 consecutive starts dating to June 10. In his past two starts, Tillman has a 1.23 ERA, with two runs allowed over 13 2/3 innings.
“[When] you see him have command of the fastball and the curveball early in the game, he's got a good chance,” Showalter said of Tillman. “Just about every five days [of rest] has served him well. He's gotten into a good routine. We don't want to take him out of that. And you saw what he can do in the second half of the season last year, if that's an indication.”
For just the second time in club history, the Orioles hit multiple homers off three opposing pitchers, matching a feat first achieved May 17, 1967, at Boston.
Machado's three-run blast in the second inning off Cardinals starter Justin Masterson (5-7) put the Orioles up 4-0. After he was hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance, Machado took a first-pitch delivery from Masterson over the Orioles' bottom-tier bullpen beyond the left-center-field fence, an estimated 410 feet.
Hardy, who entered Friday with just four homers this year after averaging 25 over his previous three seasons with the Orioles, homered in consecutive at-bats, hitting a solo homer off Masterson to lead off the third inning and blasting a three-run shot off left-handed reliever Nick Greenwood in the fourth inning. Before Friday, Hardy hadn't homered since July 19.
After Jones hit a solo homer in the fifth off Greenwood, his 22nd home run of the season, Davis hit his third homer in his past four games, taking a 3-2 pitch from St. Louis (61-53) left-handed reliever Sam Freeman well over the center-field fence.
Flaherty ended the assault with an opposite-field leadoff homer off Freeman in the sixth, putting the Orioles up 12-0.
Having the Orioles greats of the past seemed to rub off on the current players. Between batting practice rounds, the 22-year-old Machado spoke with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson behind the batting cage.
“Having these guys around today, it helps a lot, especially younger players,” Machado said. “It helps out the team just to pick their brains. They're Hall of Famers, they're the best of the best, so if you can pick their brain and see how they were successful in their careers and seasons, it's something where you've got to just pick their brain as much as you can. And that's what everybody here today did. We took the time to take them aside and ask them questions and see what their thoughts were.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun