The Orioles have waited all season to find this combination, where the starting pitching keeps them in games and the offense capitalizes on opportunities. Four straight games doesn't make up for four months of frustration, but at least the Orioles haven't quit trying to find the formula.
Kris Benson pitched seven strong innings for his first win in seven weeks and third baseman Melvin Mora sparked an early offensive outburst as the Orioles defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-2, Friday night for their third straight victory before 22,679 at Camden Yards.
Mora hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a two-run single in the second. The Orioles (54-68) pounded Toronto's spot starter Scott Downs for six runs in the first two innings. Mora, Miguel Tejada and rookie Nick Markakis all had three hits for the Orioles, who have scored 41 runs in the past six games.
"The guys have been swinging the bat and taking advantage of the opportunities," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "[You] get out there early and watch your pitcher relax a little bit and pitch, and Kris did that. He pitched a pretty darn good ballgame against a good hitting club."
Given a 6-0 lead by the time he took the mound for the third inning, Benson (10-9) carried a three-hit shutout into the sixth inning. Vernon Wells ended it there with his 28th homer. Troy Glaus followed with another long home run to center field. However, Benson got Lyle Overbay for the last out in the sixth and then pitched a scoreless seventh before giving way to the Orioles' bullpen.
In his second start since returning from the disabled list, Benson, who won for the first time since June 28, a span of seven starts, struck out five, walked none and allowed six hits. He improved to 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA against Toronto this season.
"It seemed like an eternity," said Benson of his winless stretch. "I wish it wasn't that long. I had a couple of chances to get one. I felt a lot better tonight. I knew that I wasn't going to be sharp the first time out there, and I knew I was going to bounce back a lot better the second time out. I felt a lot more comfortable going into tonight's game knowing that's typically the way it works with any pitcher."
In the past four outings, Orioles starters - Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen and Rodrigo Lopez against the New York Yankees and Benson against Toronto last night - have allowed seven earned runs and 15 hits over 25 2/3 innings. That gives Orioles' starters a 2.46 ERA over the past four games.
Perlozzo pointed out that it's not just the pitching. The Orioles played solid defense again last night with Mora and second baseman Brian Roberts making a couple of nice plays.
The Orioles' bats also did plenty of work. Markakis, Mora and Tejada, the team's two, three and four hitters, were a combined 9-for-12 with five runs and five RBIs.
"In general, yeah, we've swung the bats well, we've played good defense, we've pitched well," Roberts said. "We've done everything well the last few days."
Mora got the nine-game homestand off to a good start with his towering two-run, first-inning homer off Downs (6-2). The blast, which traveled 367 feet into the left-field bleachers, was Mora's 13th of the season, but his first since July 31 and only his second since July 8.
The Orioles third baseman had recorded 27 home runs in each of his two previous seasons, although neither Perlozzo nor Mora seemed concerned that his power numbers are down.
"I just worry about driving runs in," said Mora, who now has 68 RBIs. Last season he had 88. "The more runs you drive in the more chances you have to win. Home runs [are] an accident.
"If you hit it, it might go out, it might not. I am not thinking about home runs. I am thinking about going up there, trying to make contact and whatever happens, happens."
Said Perlozzo: "I don't know that you expect him to hit 27 home runs every year, but he still has six or seven weeks to go. He hits four or five more it doesn't look that different than last year. We just have to get him to keep driving in runs. That's the main thing."
Corey Patterson hit an RBI single in the first that gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead. After Fernando Tatis' groundout to start the second, the Orioles strung together five straight hits off Downs to tack on three more runs.
Mora drove in two more runs with a single. Tejada also ripped a single to left field, scoring Markakis, who is now 6-for-12 with six runs and five RBIs since being moved to the No. 2 hole.
Toronto manager John Gibbons finally had seen enough of Downs, who gave up nine hits while getting just four outs.
"It's been a good series of games, where we have done all three [pitched, played defense and hit] together," Perlozzo said. "When your pitching gets you deeper in the game, you have a better chance to win."