DETROIT — Even after beating the Detroit Tigers, 9-3, Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park to win their first series of the second half, the Orioles downplayed the significance of this three-city road trip against other potential playoff contenders.
"Season wasn't going to end if we won one or we got swept," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I understand how people look at it in a minute-to-minute, day-to-day mentality. Certainly we have some private moments where you get frustrated with it, but you can't live in that world. You can't, and if that starts permeating your locker room, you're done."
There certainly is some merit in not putting too much emphasis on one day or one series or one road trip in a 162-game season. But the reality for these Orioles is this: They lost 10 of their last 13 heading into the All Star Break, were fading in the American League East and have seven pending free agents who could be trade chips if management decided to blow up this team before the nonwaiver trade deadline July 31.
The Orioles (46-45) needed to show some signs of life, but on Friday they lost the second half opener and then had to face former Cy Young Award winners David Price and Justin Verlander on consecutive days. If their backs weren't up against the wall, they were at least touching it with their shoulder blades.
What occurred this weekend against the equally up-against-it Tigers (45-46) was a mini-resurgence. The Orioles received an amazing one-hit performance by right-hander Chris Tillman on Saturday night to outduel Price and then delivered a shellacking of Verlander on Sunday that included a six-run fourth. That wasn't lost on Showalter.
"After losing the first game and looking at Price and Verlander sitting there, a lot of clubs would've come in with that 'woe is me'" attitude, Showalter said. "But our guys battled through it and I'm real proud of them."
It was the first time the Orioles have won consecutive games this July and it was their first series victory since sweeping the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards June 26-28. They had lost four straight series and are still just 19-27 on the road.
"If you win series, I think you put yourselves in a good situation," said Adam Jones, who got the Orioles on the board Sunday with a solo home run against Verlander in the first inning. "We hadn't won too many series going into the break so this is a good win. Now, let's go to New York and do the same thing there."
Yes, stop two of the Orioles' "In it to Win it" tour begins at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday against a Yankees team (50-41) that is leading the second-place Orioles by four games. A sweep there would draw the Orioles within one game of first — and put them in a completely different landscape than where they were last week.
"With us playing not as good of baseball as we are capable of and being right there," shortstop J.J. Hardy said, "I think we feel pretty good about it."
Because the Toronto Blue Jays (47-47) beat the Tampa Bay Rays (47-47) Sunday afternoon, the Orioles moved back into second place — albeit by half a game over both the Rays and Jays — for the first time since July 11. The Orioles head to Tampa Bay for a three-game series next weekend, and that could loom large, as well.
The task at hand, though, was clinching the series against the Tigers on Sunday, and the Orioles did that by riding a seven-hit, six-run fourth against Verlander (0-3).
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop had the big blast, a three-run shot to left, his sixth of the season. Schoop is hitting .344 with three homers and seven RBIs since returning from the disabled list July 5.
"We have a really good team. Everybody believes in everybody," Schoop said. "They have really good pitchers, but we are a really good offensive team, too. And the first game, we lost, we threw it away and came back the next day and tried to win."
In Sunday's fourth, the Orioles sent 10 batters to the plate against Verlander, the former AL MVP who didn't pitch this season until June 13 due to a right triceps strain and now has a 6.62 ERA in six starts.
Besides Schoop's homer, Hardy added a two-run double and Manny Machado had an RBI single in the frame; the Orioles had four hits with runners in scoring position in the inning, one more than they had in their previous eight games combined, dating back to July 6. They were 6-for-10 in those situations Sunday.
"It's nice," Hardy said about coming through with runners in scoring position. "Hopefully we can just kind of roll off of that and quit thinking about it."
The offensive explosion — which also included a two-run single by Chris Parmelee in the eighth, one of 14 hits — helped Miguel Gonzalez (8-6) cruise to victory. The right-hander allowed two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings. He threw 90 pitches and could have gone longer, but given the heat in Detroit, the score and the need for some relievers to get work, Gonzalez left early with a five-run lead.
"It was a taxing day. He threw like 70 pitches in three innings," Showalter said of Gonzalez. "He didn't fight me a whole lot [when he was removed], which is a little unusual for him."
The Orioles get a day off before playing the Yankees in the second stop of this three-city trip that could help define their second half and postseason hopes — whether they'll admit it or not.
"We are going to go to New York and do what we are capable of doing," Gonzalez said. "Our defense has been doing a good job. Our bullpen has been holding runs. That's what we are all about. We are going to go out there and be ourselves and keep working hard."