—In recent years, the Orioleshave experienced plenty of these games in September, when a contender demolishes and demoralizes an overmatched also-ran playing out the string.
Almost exclusively, though, the Orioles were on the wrong end of those beatings.
Not now, however. Not in this crazy season.
The upstart Orioles pounded the Seattle Mariners, 10-4, Monday night, amassing 15 hits and chasing starter Hector Noesi with just one out in the second inning.
“Everybody is kind of just picking the next guy up. If someone doesn’t get it done, the next guy does,” said first baseman Mark Reynolds. “And we’re putting up some runs without homers, which I think it’s pretty big.”
The Orioles sent eight batters to the plate in the first and nine more in the second, carrying starter Chris Tillman to a 7-0 lead by the time he stepped onto the mound in the bottom of the second.
Nate McLouth started the barrage by homering on the third pitch of the game from Noesi (2-12). It was the eighth leadoff homer of his career, but first since April 30, 2010 while he was with the Atlanta Braves. McLouth, who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, didn’t join the Orioles from the minor leagues until Aug. 4, and he already has three, three-hit games.
“The way he got after it in Norfolk he gave himself a chance to be successful,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of McLouth. “You feel good when you tell somebody, ‘Go down there and there will be a need, and if a spot arises, we’ll take you.’ And he went after it with his ears pinned back and earned everything he is getting.”
McLouth, who has stepped in admirably at leadoff for the injured Nick Markakis, paced the Orioles’ suddenly hot offense Monday, getting on base four times in the first five innings. He is hitting .293 with two homers and seven runs scored in 10 games (nine starts) batting first for the Orioles.
“Like I said on the first day I led off, I’m not going to try to change anything based on where I am hitting in the lineup,” McLouth said. “That’s the approach I’ve taken and it’s working out OK.”
And he wasn’t even the star of the night.
Tillman (8-2) was phenomenal again against the team that dealt him, center fielder Adam Jones and three others to the Orioles for lefty Erik Bedard in 2008.
He allowed just three hits – including a Michael Saunders solo homer in the second – in six innings. He walked none and struck out four. It was particularly impressive because Tillman hadn’t pitched since Sept. 2, when he had to leave in the fourth inning due to elbow inflammation. He said once he started pitching Monday, the fear about his elbow subsided.
“I think it’s always there when something like that happens and you get taken out of the game like that,” he said. “I had a little bit of nerves going, but I knew being able to throw those bullpens successfully and not feeling it (early on) in the game, I was good to go the rest of the way.”
He’s apparently pretty good on two weeks’ rest. And tremendous against the Mariners.
In four starts in his career versus Seattle, Tillman is 4-0 with a 0.98 ERA. This year, he has faced the Mariners three times and has been dominant in each outing. In 21 2/3 innings in those three games, he has allowed two earned runs (0.83 ERA) on 10 hits and three walks while striking out 16 batters.
“Every game you’ve got to go out and give your team the best chance to win the game,” said Tillman, who has won seven of his last eight decisions. “It’s nothing different for me facing this team or whether it be another team. I’m glad it goes that way but, no, it’s nothing personal.”
Tillman has now won eight of 12 starts in 2012 compared to seven wins in his first 36 starts in his previous three seasons as a big leaguer.
“He’s done well, period, but he’s done well against us, too,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. “He’s kind of a short-armer over the top, a little bit sneaky. Real good breaking ball, and he started mixing in his changeup a little bit. He did a nice job. Pitched a good ballgame.”
Tillman’s dominance, and the offensive barrage, allowed the Orioles (83-64) to capture their sixth win in seven games versus Seattle this year and take the American League lead for most road wins at 41.
More important, the Orioles climbed within a half game of the idle Yankees in the AL East race and are now five up on the Tampa Bay Rays, who lost to the Boston Red Sox on Monday. The Orioles hold a 2 ½ game cushion on the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL Wild Card spot.
The Mariners (70-78) are 18 games back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
It was ugly from the beginning for Noesi and the Mariners, who added late home runs from Eric Thames (solo against Zach Phillips) and Jon Jaso (two-run shot versus Luis Ayala) to make the final score a little more palatable.
With two outs in the first and the Orioles up 1-0, they strung together a walk and three consecutive hits, with Mark Reynolds and Manny Machado each getting a RBI single.
In the second, J.J. Hardy and Reynolds each had run-scoring doubles and Jones added a RBI infield single.
Two innings later, catcher Matt Wieters smashed a two-run homer to center for his 22nd of the season, tying a career high set last year. Wieters now has three homers in his last two games and five this month.
In the sixth, Endy Chavez added a RBI single to make it 10-1 and become the seventh Oriole with a RBI. It was the second consecutive game that the Orioles had seven different players drive in at least one run. On Monday, only Chris Davis didn’t reach base safely and only Robert Andino and Davis didn’t have hits.
“It’s like scoring in a lot of innings,” Showalter said. “It’s just a pass the baton mentality right now. I think the pitchers feel that same way, too.”
Seattle attempted to make it close in the ninth, as Ayala was forced out of the game with two runners on and two outs after already yielding two runs. Reliever Tommy Hunter surrendered a single to load the bases but then struck out Trayvon Robinson to end the game.
The Orioles, who have been dogged by their negative run differential all season, have outscored their opponents 38-22 in their last seven games, pushing their run differential for the season up to -14. They have scored eight or more runs in six of 16 September games.
“We are clicking right now, we are going on all cylinders. We are playing good baseball. It’s fun to watch,” said Tillman, who didn’t even get a September call-up last season. “I was at home last year watching and it’s good to be here and to have the opportunity. Been a lot of hard work in the offseason and even in season and it’s good to see it paying off.”