No longer content to win a series, the Orioles were especially motivated last night by their desire to sweep an opponent. Two out of three isn't bad, but it isn't acceptable, either. Not to a team with growing standards.
Ramon Hernandez and Alex Cintron homered in the fourth inning, starting the comeback process a little earlier than usual, Aubrey Huff connected in the seventh, and the Orioles moved three games above .500 for the first time in a month with a 7-5 victory over the Houston Astros before an announced 31,480 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (37-34) had failed in six straight tries to win the final game of a series and complete the sweep. They hadn't run the table in an interleague series since disposing of the Astros in June 2005.
"When you get a sweep, I don't care if it's easy, hard, indifferent or whatever. You'll take it," Dave Trembley said. "It's a positive occurrence around here."
Closer George Sherrill recorded the last two outs after replacing Dennis Sarfate, but he also let two inherited runners score.
Afterward, he carried a broom down the hallway, peeked inside Trembley's office and said, "We finally got one."
It didn't appear their luck would change after left-hander Brian Burres allowed a run in the first inning and a 415-foot solo homer to Hunter Pence in the second. But Burres retired 11 of 13 batters before former Oriole Miguel Tejada homered leading off the sixth.
Matt Albers replaced Burres with two outs and the Orioles ahead 6-3. They stayed in front, allowing Burres (6-5) to earn his second straight win.
"I was keeping the ball down in the zone, throwing some strikes, getting ahead of hitters and letting my defense do its job," he said.
The defense wasn't as reliable in the ninth. Cintron dropped a low throw from Sarfate at second base, and a one-out walk loaded the bases. Kazuo Matsui lifted a sacrifice fly off Sherrill, and Tejada delivered another run on an infield hit, with Cintron bobbling the ball while trying to rush his throw.
"It was a tough throw [from Sarfate], but I should have caught it and taken the one out," said Cintron, who made his second consecutive start at shortstop. "That's part of the game. At least we won, or I'd be more upset right now."
Astros starter Shawn Chacon walked Kevin Millar with two outs and the bases loaded in the third to cut Houston's lead to 2-1, and Hernandez and Cintron reached the seats in the fourth. Cintron hadn't homered since Sept. 7, 2007. No Orioles shortstop had homered this year.
"I was looking for a good pitch to hit," he said. "He threw me a first-pitch curveball and I stayed back on it pretty well and put a good swing on the ball. I was just looking for a ball in the zone, around the plate, and I was aggressive."
Millar added a run-scoring double in the fifth, and Jay Payton singled with two outs to bring home Huff and Millar.
One of the signature moments of the series, if not the season, arrived in the seventh inning when second baseman Brian Roberts made a diving stop and threw out Tejada to prevent Lance Berkman from coming to the plate as the potential tying run. Tejada looked up at Roberts and gave his signature "spotlight" gesture while stretched out on his stomach at first base.
The Orioles are slowly making believers out of everyone - friends, fans and former teammates.