Radhames Liz delivered exactly what the Orioles needed last night, logging six solid innings and handing a three-run lead to the bullpen.
But what the Orioles got from Adam Loewen could have far deeper ramifications as they attempt to find a bridge to the back end of their bullpen and build up the confidence of one of their most promising young pitchers. In his first appearance since late April and first relief outing in nearly two years, Loewen pitched two scoreless innings in the Orioles' 7-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals before an announced 19,756 at Camden Yards.
"After I got through the first inning, I just felt all the anxiety kind of melt away," said Loewen, who last pitched April 24 before being shut down because of elbow soreness, the residual effect of season-ending surgery last year. "I could relax, and it felt great to come back. To contribute to a win is even better."
It wasn't easy, and it never seems to be with this group. With the Orioles (42-40) leading by four runs heading into the ninth inning, Dennis Sarfate put two men on while getting one out, prompting manager Dave Trembley to turn to closer George Sherrill.
Sherrill, who had blown saves the two previous days by giving up home runs on two-strike hanging sliders, got a standing ovation as he ran out of the bullpen, a gesture the first-year closer said "meant a lot."
Allowing the tying run to get to the plate, Sherrill struck out Alex Gordon for his 27th save. Relying almost exclusively on fastballs against Gordon, who eight innings earlier homered off Liz onto Eutaw Street, Sherrill got the long-awaited final strike on a slider.
"[A] good one actually," Sherrill said, adding, "It's good to get this win and get the last two out of my system."
The closer also appreciated the support of Trembley, who wore a T-shirt with Sherrill's name and number under his jersey. After the game, Trembley presented Sherrill with a sign that was given to him by a fan during batting practice. It read, "Never a doubt, Georgie," the team's slogan after Sherrill's memorably nerve-racking saves.
"You've got a guy down there who's the closer on this team," said Trembley, who spoke to Sherrill yesterday, urging him to use his fastball more. "When it's a save situation, he's going to get them."
It was an important result for the Orioles, who took the lead for good on Brandon Fahey's RBI double in the second off Royals starter Luke Hochevar and expanded it with two-run singles by Ramon Hernandez and Adam Jones in the fourth. Brian Roberts added an important insurance run with a solo homer in the seventh.
Liz (3-0), who Trembley said had his best command since becoming an Oriole, got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning and then fought through the sixth.
With a three-run lead in the seventh, Trembley brought on Loewen, who is scheduled to pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the season. The left-hander allowed two hits in the inning but no runs, getting Mike Aviles to hit into a double play. Roberts got the final out of the inning by ranging far to his left to throw out Gordon.
Loewen, who will be one of the guys Trembley uses to fill the void left by Matt Albers, turned in a perfect eighth, hitting 93 mph on the stadium radar gun.
"Loewen did a tremendous job," Trembley said. "I hope that does wonders for his confidence. That was a real boost for him and for our team."