With just three dozen games left in the regular season, the jury is still out on what to make of the Orioles — whether they still have enough steam to make a playoff push in the season’s final month or if all the team’s optimism up to this point is destined to be misplaced.
This far into the season, we do know this: They rely heavily on the home-run ball. And when the Orioles’ power bats are in full swing, they can do damage to any opponent. Given the position they’re in, that might not be enough for another postseason berth, but on Wednesday night, it was enough to break this struggling team out of its biggest rut of the season.
The Orioles bashed five homers — three off the Kansas City Royals' prized trade-deadline acquisition, Johnny Cueto — in an 8-5 victory over the Royals that ended their season-worst six-game losing streak in front of an announced 33,003 at Kauffman Stadium.
“I couldn't have told you the number,” Showalter said of the Orioles’ losing streak. “There’s so much negativism around you when things are going poorly and there’s so much over-positiveness when things are going well. You try to stay in reality, but because of the reality of how many games we have left and where we are trying to get, it does put a different spin on it at this time of the year.”
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s tie-breaking two-run homer in the fourth inning was the perfect example of the vast extremes that this team has experienced in 2015.
In Schoop’s first plate appearance, he ended an eight-pitch at-bat by flailing at a tailing 2-2 fastball from Cueto. That strikeout ended a second inning in which the Orioles put runners on the corners with no outs but failed to score.
Schoop’s aggressiveness put him behind in the count in his second at-bat. But when Cueto hooked a 1-2 cutter over the inner half of the plate, Schoop turned on it and sent it deep into the left-field stands for his 10th homer of the year.
“That’s big,” Schoop said. “That’s why we are here for each other and we believe in everybody and everybody came through. It’s big for us. In the first inning we didn’t score, but we came back and tried to have good at-bats.”
According to Kauffman Stadium estimates, Schoop's blast went about 427 feet. MLB’s computerized tracking system, Statcast, projected Schoop’s homer at 484 feet, which was the second-longest homer in the majors this season.
Regardless of the distance, Schoop’s blast had tremendous magnitude. Of Schoop’s 10 home runs this season, four have given the Orioles the lead.
“It’s a little reminder of what we lost for a long period of time,” Showalter said of Schoop, who missed nearly three months with a right knee injury. “Jon, you can see early in the season he was getting to do that. He hasn’t had 200 at-bats yet. … Jon’s a strong young man that approaches it the right way.”
The Orioles’ eight runs were the most they’ve scored since their 18-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 16. Their five homers were their second-most of the season, only topped by their club-record eight in a 19-3 rout of the Philadelphia Phillies on June 16.
Entering Wednesday night, the Orioles (63-63) had scored three or fewer runs in six straight games and seven of eight. All seven of those games were losses. They hit more than twice as many homers in one game Wednesday as they did over their entire six-game skid (two).
With the win, the Orioles pulled to within two games of the Minnesota Twins for the second American League wild card.
“We just grinded,” said left fielder Steve Pearce, who hit one of the Orioles’ five homers. “We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve been put in a corner. We lost six in a row and we responded well tonight. I think that’s one of the good attributes about this team -- whenever we get put in that corner, we respond well.”
In addition to Schoop’s blast, the Orioles received two-run homers from Manny Machado, his 26th of the season, and Chris Davis, who hit his team-high 35th. Pearce and Ryan Flaherty added solo shots in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (8-6) allowed 11 base runners on 10 hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings, but held the Royals to three runs. He was the beneficiary of three double-play balls that foiled Kansas City rallies.
"I think my breaking ball was working good enough today, so I was able to mess up the hitters' timing,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “I think everybody [did] great today, including our bullpen and our defense. And for myself, I think there's maybe something with my control I can improve, but I think today everybody was doing great and it was a team effort."
After Wednesday’s start, Chen boasts a 3.02 ERA on the road this season and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all 11 starts away from Camden Yards.
The Royals (77-49) entered the night 44-20 at home and had won five straight at Kauffman Stadium. They took a 2-0 lead in a second inning that included two doubles, a sacrifice bunt and a pair of infield hits. With one run in on Salvador Perez’s RBI double, Davis made a diving snag on a grounder by Paulo Orlando at first, but instead of taking the play himself, he took himself out of the play by tossing to Chen late. Orlando beat it out for an infield single to put runners at first and third.
No. 9 hitter Omar Infante then hit a slow-rolling swinging bunt to third that Machado had no play on, allowing Perez to score to give the Royals a two-run lead.
The Orioles were able to get out of the inning because of a base-running gaffe. Alcides Escobar hit a ball to deep center, but Adam Jones caught it near the warning track. On the play, Infante passed Orlando on the bases just beyond second base and was called out.
After Flaherty opened the third with a single, Machado jumped on a first-pitch hanging cutter from Cueto (9-9), sending it into the left-center seats to tie the game. Schoop’s blast, which came with two outs in the fourth, occurred after Pearce’s one-out single.
Gerardo Parra opened the fifth with a leadoff single and two batters later, Davis took a full-count pitch the opposite way into the Royals bullpen just beyond the left-field fence.
Pearce hit his eighth homer of the season off former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie in the eighth. It was Pearce's first homer since July 11. Pearce has multiple hits in both of his starts since coming off the disabled list Monday.
After right-hander Brad Brach issued a two-out walk to Kendrys Morales in the eighth, Brian Matusz entered the game to face Mike Moustakas for a lefty-lefty matchup. But Moustakas hit a 2-1 fastball over the right-center fence to cut the Orioles' lead to 7-5.
Darren O’Day induced the final out of the eighth before Flaherty hit a 1-0 sinker from Guthrie an estimated 416 feet to center field in the ninth. Closer Zach Britton pitched a scoreless ninth for his 30th save.
“We needed it,” Pearce said of the win. “We knew this win was big for us. It was big for the team. Now we have the chance to tie the series up tomorrow and that’s something we definitely need to do. … We built off [the homers]. The other team, they tried to keep coming back and we kept responding also. We can’t let up against this team. This is a good team. No matter how big the lead is, we have to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”