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Orioles rally in big way in 9-5 victory over Tigers

When Orioles manager Buck Showalter juggled his lineup an hour before Thursday night's game to insert previously hobbled Luke Scott into left field, he considered having struggling Adam Jones take a seat.

Showalter could have used the opportunity to get left-handers Scott, who had missed three games with a strained right groin, and Felix Pie in the lineup together against Detroit right-hander Brad Penny.

Showalter, though, sat Pie and stuck with the right-handed-hitting Jones, and the center fielder busted out of his early-season slump in a big way, hitting a two-run homer in the sixth and adding a game-deciding sacrifice fly in a five-run seventh as the Orioles topped the Tigers, 9-5.

"To say it never crossed my mind wouldn't be completely honest, but it wasn't something I did," Showalter said about resting Jones, who entered the game 2-for-19 in the season's first five games. "I just thought there was more positive to be gained by Jonesy fighting through it. Plus, there are two or three games where he's the difference-maker in center field."

Jones was involved in a wild play in center -- he ran down a soaring fly ball, gloved it, juggled it and tipped it against the outfield wall and into Nick Markakis' glove for a key, yet questionable, out in the fourth. He also was one of four Orioles with two hits and one of two, along with Mark Reynolds, to have three RBIs. He had the second homer for the club; Vladimir Guerrero had the first, a towering shot to deep center that was the designated hitter's first homer as an Oriole.

Afterward, Jones was more interested in talking about the entire offense than his own slump-busting, which started with a bunt single, a stolen base and run scored in the second inning.

"Anybody on any given night can do some damage to you," Jones said. "Just imagine if all nine of us are doing it in one night."

When asked about potentially sitting out the sixth game of the season, he said: "I'm not answering that. I'm trying to play 162; there's never going to be a time where I ask, I'm never going to go and ask that I shouldn't play."

Jones' offense helped carry the Orioles to their fifth victory in six games this year, putting them back in sole possession of first place in the American League East. It also marked their second consecutive series victory; they didn't win two in 2010 until May11-13, their 11th series of the year.

"It's better than last year, but we've still got a lot of games to go," Jones said. "You've seen a lot of people start out well, and you never hear anything about them. We've got to maintain our game, do what we need to do and not worry about other teams."

This one didn't start out well.

First, shortstop J.J. Hardy was a last-minute scratch after feeling tightness in his left side, near the rib cage, while warming up. Since he had never felt pain there, and it was a cold night, Showalter decided to err on the side of caution.

"I was going to play through it, playing catch, doing everything getting ready for the game. I wanted to put a little bit of Icy Hot on it just to keep it warm," said Hardy, who hopes to play Friday but will be re-evaluated before the game. "At that point, it got back to Buck that it was tight, it was sore, and he came out and talked to me when I was playing catch getting ready for the game. He didn't like it, thought it was better to be safe than sorry. I think it was the right decision."

Once the game started, it didn't get much better for the Orioles, who were hoping to get six or seven innings from starter Chris Tillman, who dominated in his first performance of the season, six hitless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

They didn't get it. Instead, Tillman left in the fifth after throwing an inefficient 97 pitches and walking off the mound with the Orioles trailing 4-2. But a rally in the seventh, when the Orioles sent 10 men to the plate, scored five runs on four hits, including a key two-run double by Reynolds, sent the shivering announced crowd of 11,648 to its feet.

By then, Tillman was long gone.

Tillman threw 32 pitches in the first, allowing four singles and two runs, including one on a blast by Victor Martinez that smacked off the scoreboard in right. The at-bat of the inning was turned in by Tigers No. 2 hitter Will Rhymes, who saw 12 pitches from Tillman and fouled off nine before lining out to left field. A double play got Tillman out of the inning, down 2-0, and he settled in.

"That first inning, I felt like I threw a million pitches. They fouled off it felt like 100 pitches," Tillman said. "I wanted to make that second inning a quick one. I just wanted to get back in the dugout; it was a cold night. So the only thing on my mind was make it a quick one here."

He retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced before Tigers catcher Alex Avila continued his hot series with his second home run and his sixth RBI in the past two games. Three batters later, Brennan Boesch doubled home Rhymes to give Detroit a 4-2 lead and end Tillman's night.

"I think that's probably the one thing I take out of this game as a positive," Tillman said. "After that first inning to come back strong, I think, you guys can be the judge of it, but I think in the past that first inning is one of those innings that really would get away from me."

The young righty was charged with four runs on six hits and two walks in 42/3 innings. He was replaced by Jeremy Accardo, who allowed one run in 12/3 innings. Jim Johnson (1-0) and Koji Uehara combined for 22/3 scoreless innings.

Tillman also had one major call go his way in the fourth. With a runner on first and no outs, Martinez hit a deep fly to right-center that Jones tracked down. The ball hit his glove and bounced out. Jones attempted to snag it barehanded, and it slipped out and hit the outfield wall, moments before Jones crashed into the wall. Markakis, who had converged from right, caught the carom and threw back to first.

The ball clearly hit the wall and should have been a hit, but the umpires ruled that Markakis caught it.

"Adam is Adam, he is going to run into walls. He's got our backs and I think as a pitcher it makes us feel real good," Tillman said. "I think he made a great play on that one, whether he caught it or not, I don't know."

In the end, the Orioles caught a break, and, this time, the offense picked up the pitching in its best output of April.

"It's pretty easy to win games when your pitchers are giving up no runs," Reynolds said. "It's bigger for this offense being able to put up a nine-spot."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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