BALTIMORE - Maybe it was just a coincidence.
Maybe the season debut of leadoff hitter Brian Roberts wasn't the reason the Orioles matched a season-high in hits with 15 and scored as many as eight runs in a nine-inning game for only the sixth time all season.
But the team thought otherwise.
An emotional Roberts had three hits and drove in a run in his first major league game since May 16, 2011, and seemed to provide a spark as Baltimore beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-6 Tuesday night before 15,618 at Camden Yards.
"He's the sparkplug," Adam Jones said. "We've missed him dearly."
Said manager Buck Showalter on Roberts' return: "The guys kind of fed off it."
The top four in the Orioles' lineup went 11 for 19 with five runs scored and six RBIs as Jones had four hits and came up just a triple short of the cycle, although Roberts wasn't taking credit for it.
"Obviously, it's always my goal to try to set the tempo and let the other guys feed off you a little bit. But geez, a lot of these guys have been playing so well they don't need me," he said.
Roberts received a standing ovation before his first at-bat - and promptly singled up the middle - then received a pie in the face as he was doing a television interview following the game. He said it was a game he won't soon forget.
"It'll be one of those that sticks out for sure," he said. "There's not a ton of games that stick out in your mind after a lot. But you have your few. [This is] certainly one that will be, as much as my brain allows me to remember, it'll be one that's good."
For Showalter, too.
"Oh, it was great," Showalter said. To get back, it's been a long road. You feel like you've been through a lot of it with him, but nothing like what he's been through. You're lucky to be able to see that. ... I'm sure it meant a lot to him and it was fun to watch."
The Orioles' manager said Roberts looked good, complimented his leadoff man on a professional at-bat that led to a key sacrifice fly, and pronounced him fit and ready to be the everday second baseman the rest of the way.
"I think everybody kind of felt a little anxiety for him before the game, but he certainly didn't play like it," Showalter said. "He looked very comfortable."
The Orioles won their third in a row, beating the team that began the night tied for first in the NL Central, and remained within one game of first place in the AL East.
Wei-Yin Chen was not at his best, giving up four earned runs on eight hits in 6 1-3 innings, but he was the beneficiary of the run support and upped his record to 6-2, tying Jason Hammel for the most wins on the staff.
Even as the Orioles got Roberts back, their injury problems continued. Tonight's scheduled starter, Brian Matusz, fouled a ball of his nose in batting practice. While X-rays were negative, it's unclear whether he'll be able to make his scheduled start.
Then, in the sixth inning, Endy Chavez suffered a hamstring injury while legging out a bunt single and may be headed back to the disabled list.
The Pirates, who have baseball's best record over the past two weeks, scored a run on two hits and a walk in the first inning, but the Orioles went ahead in the second when Jones doubled and scored on a no-doubt-about-it, two-run shot to left by Mark Reynolds, his fourth home run of the season.
Jones provided the offense in the following inning when his bloop single scored J.J. Hardy, who had singled. Jones made it 4-1 on a moonshot to left, his 18th home run of the season. Casey McGehee led off the sixth with his second homer of the season, over the out-of-town scoreboard in right, to make it 4-2.
The Orioles put it out of reach in the bottom of the sixth, helped by two Pittsburgh errors. Roberts had a sacrifice fly, Hardy an RBI single and Chris Davis blasted a two-run homer to right-center.
When the Pirates got to Chen for a pair of runs in the seventh, he was lifted for Luis Ayala, who struck out three in 1 2-3 scoreless innings. After Kevin Gregg gave up a two-run homer in the ninth, Jim Johnson retired the final two Pirates to record his 19th save.
Shortly thereafter, it was time for the first pie-in-the-face of Roberts' career.
"Jonesy said he's given a lot of eight to 10-year vets shaving cream pies this year and he was not sure if he's supposed to do it sometimes," Roberts said. "I said 'I'll take a hundred of them.' After I wiped it off, all the fans were cheering around me, I got a little emotional again.
"Talk about being a part of a team. I hadn't felt like that in a long time."