SEATTLE – Hitting his 30th home run of the season means something to Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, he's not going to lie.
But what really matters is when it happened and what it means to this surprising season.
Jones' career-best 30th home run came in the top of the 11th inning Wednesday, breaking a tie and securing the Orioles' 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners. It guaranteed a three-game sweep and preserved the club's streak of consecutive extra-inning victories, now at 15 and counting.
"Thirty, I mean that's a great number. Tremendous accomplishment," said Jones, who becomes the sixth outfielder in Orioles' history to reach that milestone in a season. "I think it didn't matter what number it was. I think just a homer in that situation to put us up, to put us ahead, even if it was just a regular hit [is more important]. Anything to put this team ahead and help this team I'm down for."
The Orioles (85-64) are now a half game back in the American League East race behind the New York Yankees, who swept a doubleheader from the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday. The O's took a half-game lead over the Oakland A's for the top spot in the AL Wild Card race.
"I've only been here for a few weeks and you just get that feeling of a never-say-die attitude. And that's what we've been doing," said Orioles' starter Joe Saunders, who allowed just one run, a Franklin Gutierrez homer, in eight exceptional innings. "We are doing the little things that's creating big things and big opportunities. We've thrown the ball well. We've had clutch hits. We've caught the ball well. We've done everything well."
With the score tied 1-1 in the 11th after a tremendous pitcher's duel between Saunders and Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Jones smashed Josh Kinney's full-count slider over the left-field wall for his fourth extra-inning home run of the season. Sixteen of his homers have given the Orioles a lead.
"Adam has got so much want-to and I'm never going to try to take that away from him," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "Thirty home runs. He's getting better every year and we are lucky to have him. He's special. And it's comforting for us an organization and I'm sure for our fans to know that he's going to be a contributor for a long time for us."
Jones, a former Mariner who is from San Diego, always has friends and family at Safeco Field when he plays here. That group included his brother on Wednesday.
"My brother's never seen me hit one live, so to hit one in front of him was pretty cool," Jones said. "They were out there happy. We are in a good situation. It was an uplifting home run."
It also guaranteed that the game wouldn't go on any longer – a needed respite for a club that played 18 innings on Tuesday and 14 innings last Thursday. They are an inexplicable 15-2 in extra innings this year, while the Mariners (70-80) fell to 5-9.
"We just play too many. But it's a great feeling in here that nobody wants to lose," said reliever Luis Ayala (5-4), who got the Orioles out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the 10th by getting Gutierrez to pop up. "Everybody tries to give 100 percent in the most important time of the game, when you have to keep your mind really focused. You have to get the key outs or [make the] key play or the key swing that makes the difference in the game.
"With this team, we've got great players, and in all these games we think somebody's going to do something for the win."
For a few tense moments in the bottom of the 11th, it looked like the extra-inning magic might slip away.
Closer Jim Johnson allowed two singles before first baseman Mark Reynolds started a difficult 3-6-1 double play. Johnson then walked Michael Saunders to put runners on the corners with two outs and dangerous pinch-hitter John Jaso at the plate.
Before Jaso could do any damage, Saunders attempted to steal and was thrown out at second by reserve catcher Taylor Teagarden to seal the Orioles' fourth straight victory on this nine-game road trip.
"I didn't think he was going to run in that situation, provided that Jaso was the hitter," Teagarden said. "I thought they were going to take their chances with Jaso hitting. When he took off, I was little surprised. … He caught me off guard a little bit, but J.J. [Hardy] was there, stuck it and was able to hold on."
Johnson picked up his 45th save – tying Randy Myers for the club record in a single season.
"I couldn't have hoped for anything like what he's done this year," Showalter said of Johnson. "I could have, but there's not a day goes by I don't appreciate him and understand how hard it is for him to do what he's doing at the level he's at."
Every baserunner was at a premium thanks to the pitching – which was also probably aided by two tired offenses.
Saunders, making his fifth start for the Orioles, once again dominated the Mariners, a team he faced often when he played for the Los Angeles Angels. Despite the no decision, Saunders is 8-1 in 15 career starts against Seattle and 6-0 with a 2.12 ERA at Safeco Field. He hasn't allowed more than one earned run in his last seven starts in Seattle, pitching to a minuscule 0.94 ERA now in those Safeco starts.
"I didn't know that. I don't know, I like pitching here," Saunders said. "It kind of fits my eye. … Just go out there, pitch to contact, throw strikes and everything will take care of itself."
His only mistake was a solo homer by Gutierrez in the fourth – after Saunders had retired the first 10 Mariners in order. His counterpart, Hernandez, was just as good, lasting eight innings striking out eight batters while allowing six hits and a walk.
The Orioles managed just one run against him – and it was a gamble that worked. Chris Davis reached on a fielder's choice in the fourth. As part of a hit and run, Davis dashed toward second as Reynolds singled to center and kept going.
Orioles third base coach DeMarlo Hale waved Davis around, and the burly designated hitter beat the relay throw to score from first.
Then, the Orioles went into their patented stall offense until striking again in the 11th. The win cemented their first sweep of the Mariners since May 1997, the last year the Orioles had a winning season and made the playoffs.
"Apparently everything we're doing this year we've never done in 15 years," Jones said. "So just add another thing to the list that we haven't done in 15 years."