For weeks, they promised that an offensive outburst like this one was coming. Even as the scoring opportunities vanished amid ill-timed strikeouts and double-play balls, the Orioles maintained that they were a good offensive club and it was only a matter of time before they showed it.
The long-awaited offensive breakout arrived Monday night, when the Orioles scored five runs in the first and knocked out overmatched Pittsburgh Pirates starter Charlie Morton after the second en route to an 8-3 victory in front of an announced 22,447 at PNC Park.
"Use the guy hitting in front of you as motivation," said center fielder Adam Jones, who drove in two runs and was one of five Orioles to have two hits or more. "If he gets a knock, drive him in. That's what we did tonight."
In securing their first back-to-back road wins since May 14-15, the Orioles (33-37) eliminated much of the drama early, building a 7-0 lead by the top of the second. They reached the double-digit mark in hits with one out in the third inning and finished with 14 for the game.
The eight runs the Orioles scored were the most that they've tallied since they put up nine against the Kansas City Royals on May 25, 23 games ago.
"They got rewarded a little bit [Sunday]," manager Buck Showalter said, referring to the Orioles' 14 hits and seven runs in a victory over the Washington Nationals. "I hope these things kind of snowball. Guys seemed to be a little relaxed today."
Right fielder Nick Markakis had three hits; he's 20-for-50 (.400) during his 11-game hitting streak. First baseman Derrek Lee got two more hits and is 11-for-18 in his past four games. J.J. Hardy, Jones and Robert Andino also had two hits apiece, and Mark Reynolds reached base in four of his five plate appearances and hit a sacrifice fly in the other.
With the exception of left fielder Felix Pie, who went 0-for-5, every Orioles starter had a hit, including pitcher Jake Arrieta, who drove in the Orioles' fifth run in the first inning with a single in his first major league at-bat.
"It's always nice to score early, to give your pitcher some breathing room, so it was a good inning for us," Lee said. "We continued to build on it."
Arrieta is no stranger to watching the Orioles' offense put up big numbers. The right-hander entered the night receiving the sixth-best support in the American League at 6.51 runs per game. The Orioles have scored seven or more runs in a game 11 times this season; seven of those have come in games Arrieta has started.
"I really don't know what it is," Arrieta said. "The team just finds a way to put runs on the board when I'm on the mound, for whatever reason. It's a good feeling for me, I'm not going to argue with that. The run support is obviously great. They're doing a great job. It's starting to get to that time where we need to play like this on a consistent basis. It's definitely not unobtainable. It's something that we could definitely do."
Arrieta's ninth win tied him with five other pitchers for the AL lead. He became the first Orioles starter to have nine wins by the end of June since Kris Benson reached that mark June 28, 2006. However, it certainly wasn't the smoothest of performances for Arrieta, who lasted just five innings, allowing three runs on three hits and two walks. He had thrown only 87 pitches (54 for strikes) when Showalter pulled him from the game.
While saying he was not injured, Arrieta (9-4) acknowledged that he didn't feel good physically while on the mound.
"It wasn't a great day for me physically," he said. " I went out there in the first and felt pretty sharp, and then after that, things went south physically. I didn't feel great, but that really doesn't matter. If you're out on the mound, you have to find ways to get guys out."
Asked to evaluate Arrieta's outing, Showalter said, "He's capable of better."
Following Arrieta, Michael Gonzalez pitched a scoreless sixth and Jason Berken turned in two perfect innings, striking out three of the six hitters he faced. Kevin Gregg, who hadn't pitched since Thursday, got the final three outs.
But the tone was set early by the Orioles' much-maligned lineup. The five-run start was the Orioles' biggest first inning of the season. Ten hitters came to the plate; six of them got hits, and one walked.
The first four batters Morton faced got hits, and Andino and Arrieta knocked in runs with two outs before Hardy finally made the final out of the inning with a strikeout on Morton's 38th pitch.
Morton (7-4) allowed an RBI double to Matt Wieters and a sacrifice fly to Reynolds in the second before Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose team fell to 35-37 with its fourth loss in a row, had finally seen enough of his starter.
The right-hander allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and a walk. It was the shortest outing for an opposing starter against the Orioles all season. Over the previous two days, opposing starters -- Morton and the Washington Nationals' Tom Gorzelanny on Sunday -- totaled just 6 2/3 innings and allowed 12 runs (10 earned) on 18 hits.
It's only two games, but perhaps this is simply the start of the stretch the Orioles have been predicting all season.
"It was another good night offensively," Lee said. "We gave ourselves a good shot to win the series, something that we haven't done a lot."
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