The smiles flashed throughout the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field, from Brian Matusz, who was solid in his 2011 big league debut, from Adam Jones, who again tormented his former team with the game-winning home run and a game-saving catch, and from Nick Markakis, whose first professional game at first base passed without incident.
Desperate for something to feel good about, some positive to take back from an otherwise miserable West Coast swing, the Orioles on Wednesday afternoon received an encouraging outing from Matusz, the 24-year-old left-hander expected to be one of the rotation's anchors for years to come.
But even more than that, they needed a win, and they got one because of Jones' long solo home run off Jamey Wright that broke a tie at 1 in the eighth inning. Thanks to scoreless relief outings from Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara and Kevin Gregg, Jones' upper-deck blast stood up as the winning run in the Orioles' 2-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners before an announced 18,036 at Safeco Field.
"I don't want to call it a big game, but I think emotionally it was a good win for us in a lot of ways," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose team ended a five-game losing streak and takes a 25-29 record into Thursday's day off. "Jonesy was a difference-maker. [He] put on an all-around show today. He's having a special year."
Jones had three hits, including his seventh home run of the season, the only one Wright (1-2) has surrendered in 25 2/3 innings this year, and also made one of the season's best defensive plays. With his back to home plate, Jones made a leaping basket catch to rob Miguel Olivo of an extra-base hit in the fourth.
Against his old team this season, Jones went 13-for-22 (.590) with one walk, two doubles, a triple, a homer and six RBIS. His homer was his first against the Mariners (28-27), and he took particular pride in doing it in front of his cousin, Adrian Limbrick, who comes to all his games when the Orioles are at Safeco Field.
However, more than anything, Jones was really glad that the Orioles won and had something to show for a poor road trip that started with them on a five-game winning streak and at the .500 mark. With a loss Wednesday, it would have ended with the team six games below .500 for the first time all season.
"We got a six-hour flight," a relieved Jones said. "If we had lost, it wouldn't have been a nice flight. It makes the flight a lot easier. We still got a lot of things that we have to work on, but a 'W' is a 'W,' and we will take it."
The Orioles were also more than content with the effort that they received from Matusz in his first start after missing the first two months of the season with a strained left intercostal muscle. Matusz allowed one earned run on four hits and no walks, striking out three over 5 2/3 innings.
The rust was evident, and Matusz's velocity was down from where the Orioles hope it will be, but the lefty limited the damage on a day when the Orioles managed only one run off Seattle rookie phenom Michael Pineda on J.J. Hardy's second-inning homer.
"It's a work in progress. A good start for him statistically," Showalter said. "We kind of mapped it out. He thought this would be a good spot for him to start in, and hopefully it will carry on and he will continue to give us a chance to win. I think his raw stuff will get better. [I] hope so. It's his first game out of spring training."
Matusz had some issues early and gave up a run in the bottom of the second on Jack Wilson's two-out RBI single. However, he started getting his breaking ball over the plate, and that allowed him to retire 10 straight Mariners at one point. Jones' standout catch was also part of that stretch, as were a handful of other well-hit balls right at Orioles defenders.
"I don't think it was nerves. I was excited to get out there," said Matusz, who made three rehabilitation starts and also pitched in two extended spring games, totaling 20 innings coming into Wednesday's outing. "I felt like I was a little bit tense, trying to do too much out of the gate, and it kind of locked me up a little bit. But as the game went on, I was able to get myself back on track. I wasn't trying to think about mechanics at all. I was just feeling my groove, and I slowed it down a little bit and not be so jumpy. That's why the game went better for me."
Matusz's velocity was consistently in the upper 80s, but he did crack 90 mph as the game went on.
"I knew my velocity wasn't high from the get go, but I was able to slow myself down and the velocity went up as the game went on," he said. "I feel strong. It's just a matter of being able to not get out of control out there on the mound. For me, I'm a feel pitcher. I make adjustments based on feel, and that's what I was able to do today."
Matusz got two quick outs in the sixth before he was removed from the game after third baseman Mark Reynolds' throwing error on Justin Smoak's ground ball. Reynolds' throw was high but catchable. However, Markakis, making his first start at first base since high school, couldn't come up with it.
That prompted Showalter to come to the mound and get Matusz. He brought in Johnson (4-1), who got out of the sixth with a groundout and pitched a scoreless seventh. After Jones' tiebreaking homer, Uehara pitched a perfect eighth, including a strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki, and Gregg turned in a perfect ninth to pick up his ninth save of the season.
"What day do you not really need a win? It's been a tough road trip, coming out here on the West Coast. But it's good momentum getting a win and being able to make that trip going home a lot easier," Matusz said. "The off day will be good. Everybody will be able to regroup. We'll work off it."