By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
7:13 PM EDT, June 19, 2011
The Orioles were desperate for a combination of good pitching and timely hitting Sunday in an attempt to avoid a sweep at the hands of baseball's hottest team, the Washington Nationals.
To an extent, they achieved it in a 7-4 victory, but it certainly didn't hurt that the Nationals, owners of an eight-game winning streak, seemingly took Father's Day off.
In front of a bipartisan crowd of an announced 35,439 in the nation's capital, the Orioles (32-37) seized on three Nationals errors -- leading to two runs -- and a starting pitcher who hadn't been on a big league mound in three weeks.
"We made errors in the first two games, and they took advantage. And we took advantage today," said third baseman Mark Reynolds, who had three of the Orioles' 14 hits, including his team-high 13th homer of the season. "Anytime a team gives extra outs, it's tough to win."
Winning for just the second time in their past eight games, the Orioles split their six-game season series with the Nationals (35-37), who failed in their chance to return to .500 for the first time since May 11.
As they had in their previous two losses here, the Orioles squandered plenty of scoring opportunities Sunday, hitting into four double plays -- three in consecutive innings -- and getting a runner thrown out at the plate. But they kept getting on base and were aided by Reynolds' and J.J. Hardy's solo homers and a suddenly error-prone Nationals squad.
"I've said many times, usually you look at that error column and [if] you're winning that, you're in the ballgame," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose club made no errors Sunday. "And taking advantage of those was big."
The beneficiary was Orioles right-hander Chris Jakubauskas (2-0) who pitched solidly in his third start this season, giving up three runs, six hits and a walk in five innings while striking out six batters.
A former independent league first baseman who was converted to a pitcher in 2003, Jakubauskas also picked up his first two major league hits Sunday. His singles in the fifth and sixth broke an 0-for-3 lifetime record with the bat. Showalter said Jakubauskas seemed gassed in the top of the sixth but allowed him to hit with none on and two outs instead of wasting a pinch-hitter -- and Jakubauskas came through.
"He was done there, but I wasn't going to burn a pinch-hitter with two outs and nobody on," Showalter said. "And he messed that up."
Jakubauskas was asked afterward whether the win or the first big league hit was more important to him.
"Obviously it's the [team] win. The hits are a bonus," Jakubauskas said. "The first hit, ironically, probably means more to me since I was a hitter my entire life growing up. It means more to me than it did when I got my first win. But, obviously, today [it's] the win."
Jakubauskas also had his first big league near-collision at home plate when he tried to score from first on a double by Hardy with no outs in the fifth. Waved home by third base coach John Russell, Jakubauskas was easily thrown out while sliding awkwardly.
"My main thing was don't fall down, because when I hit third, my legs got Jello-y," Jakubauskas said.
It was one of the Orioles' lost opportunities against Nationals starter Tom Gorzelanny (2-5), who was activated from the disabled list Sunday after missing three weeks because of left elbow inflammation.
Gorzelanny started off strong, retiring the Orioles in order in the first on seven pitches. That was the last time things went smoothly for the veteran left-hander, who was charged with five runs (four earned) and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings.
The Orioles' first run, though, was courtesy of a double play that didn't happen.
Derrek Lee singled to lead off the second, and Nolan Reimold followed with a grounder to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who threw the ball into the outfield on a double-play attempt. The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs on Reynolds' dribbler that Zimmerman picked up but couldn't make a throw. The Orioles scored on Craig Tatum's double-play ball.
"We played sloppy, and that's what cost us. Obviously, I have to make that play in the first. That kind of changes the momentum of the whole game," Zimmerman said. "Just, unfortunately, didn't make a good throw, and that kind of changed the game. We played bad, and we lost. That's what happens when you play that way."
The Orioles scored in each of the next two innings, on Hardy's eighth homer and an RBI single by Tatum. Hardy, who has homered once more this year than all the Orioles' shortstops from 2008 to 2010, is 15-for-45 (.333) with five doubles, four homers and seven RBIs as a leadoff hitter.
"It's good," said Hardy, who also had a double Sunday. "I feel like I've gotten some pitches to hit and I haven't missed them."
Gorzelanny was chased in the fifth after giving up an RBI single to Adam Jones and an RBI double to Lee, who had two more hits. He totaled nine in the three-game series, raising his average to .245.
Falling a triple short of the cycle, Reynolds is also in a mini streak, going 7-for-19 in the six-game road trip and batting .217 this season.
"Yeah, we're in the NL. It's awesome," joked Reynolds, who is in the American League for the first time in his career. "Obviously, my comfort level's growing every day being in a new league, starting to play teams twice. And by no means is that an excuse for the start of the season. I was not very good. But a couple hits here and there, your confidence goes up and you start stringing a few good games together."
The Orioles are hoping to string a few wins together as they head to Pittsburgh. They haven't won two straight games since June 8-10. On Sunday, though, they received both decent starting pitching and strong relief.
Jakubauskas threw 88 pitches (56 strikes) in five innings and was pulled before the sixth for Jim Johnson, who threw two scoreless innings. Koji Uehara didn't give up a run in the eighth but allowed Danny Espinosa's 13th homer to start the bottom of the ninth. Uehara surrendered his sixth homer, one more than he gave up all of last year.
Ultimately, though, the hits that will be remembered from Sunday were two that didn't score any runs: the ones off Jakubauskas' bat.
"We are going to hear about his hits, for sure, from him more than his five innings," Hardy said. "But he did a good job today."
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