Reynolds delivers the clutch hit as Orioles salvage split with Twins

Mark Reynolds delivers a two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning Thursday in Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS – Orioles manager Buck Showalter calls the month following the All-Star break the true dog days of summer. It's the critical time of the baseball season when the game is a matter of survival through injuries and fatigue, the time when contenders distance themselves from pretenders.

And these Orioles, far from seasoned when it comes to playing meaningful games in the second half, have struggled through it.

Showalter often talks about riding through the peaks and valleys of a 162-game schedule and doing everything possible to extend the peaks and shorten the valleys. And the depths of losing have become all too common over the past month.

But the Orioles found a way to carry the momentum from Wednesday's morale-boosting, one-run win into a 4-3 come-from-behind victory in Thursday's series finale against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

After struggling throughout the afternoon with runners on base, first baseman Mark Reynolds broke through in the eighth with a two run, two-out single in the eighth off reliever Anthony Swarzak to give the Orioles a split in the four-game series.

It was the Orioles' eighth win of the season when trailing after seven innings.

"It's that time of year," Showalter said. "We've won a lot of games like the games we won the last two days. I think we will get crisper as it goes on."

A split in the series seemed unlikely after the Orioles dropped the first two games here in ugly fashion. The Orioles lost, 19-7, Monday and blew a three-run lead before in Tuesday's loss, both games characterized by disappointing starting pitching performances.

"We've had a tough run here lately, but to get the last two games here and to come from behind today [was important]," Reynolds said. "It gives us a little momentum going forward. Just keep playing better baseball. You win one game it can be good. It's kind of a morale thing, and it's just a good way to end this series and get out of here."

It was just the second time in the past month that the Orioles (48-44) won back-to-back games, the other time being July 3 and 4 in Seattle.

That was also the last time before Thursday that the Orioles received consecutive starts of seven or more innings. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen allowed the Twins three runs on six hits over seven innings a day after right-hander Tommy Hunter held Minnesota to one run over 7 1/3 innings in a 2-1 victory.

Chen, who was 0-3 with 5.02 ERA in his last five starts, earned his first win since he threw seven shutout innings in a 2-0 win in Atlanta on June 17.

"As a starter, I really want to go deep," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "Today I'm very excited I could help the team win. Every game is important to me, because I'm a rookie and this if my first year. It's all about getting experience. I want to help the team win, that's really important for me."

After yielding two runs in the first inning on RBI singles by Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe, Chen allowed just three hits over the next six innings.

"The first inning I tried to pitch too cautious," Chen said. "I struggled a little bit. After the first inning, I tried to be level [ground] with them. I kept trying to pitch strong and hard."

Meanwhile, the Orioles' offense struggled to manufacture runs. Before Reynolds' key hit, the O's were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position for the day and 1-for-18 over their last three games.

Reynolds fought off a 92-mph fastball from Swarzak into shallow center field, just in front of Denard Span. It plated Matt Wieters and Wilson Betemit — who had both reached on walks — to put the Orioles in front.

"I think my bat is 34 inches and I used all of it. It got in on me a lot," Reynolds said. "I had been pulling off pitches all day, and I was getting a little frustrated with it. I went up there up there trying to stay inside on the ball and telling myself, you don't need a homer, you need a single."

The Orioles stranded runners at first and second in the first and third innings. They couldn't take advantage of a leadoff walk in the fourth. And with the bases loaded in the seventh, designated hitter Jim Thome grounded into a 6-3, inning-ending double play.

Earlier that inning, the Orioles cut the lead to 3-2 when — with runners at second and third and one out — Nick Markakis hit a ball to third and Plouffe threw high to catcher Joe Mauer, allowing Chris Davis to score.

Davis accounted for the other Orioles run, hitting his 15th homer of the season to right field in the second inning.

Twins right-hander Cole De Vries, who allowed seven earned runs and three homers in five innings in his last start on Saturday, held the Orioles to one run in six innings.

Reliever Pedro Strop preserved the Orioles' 4-3 lead in the eighth. Entering with runners on first and second and no outs, he got Plouffe to pop up in foul ground behind third, induced a force out at second off the bat of Darin Mastroianni and got Brian Dozier on a fly out to center field.

"It was a tough situation, like every eighth inning," Strop said. "My mindset was just on getting the first out, because I know I get a lot of ground balls. I knew if I got the first out, I could get a ground ball and get out quick as possible."

Jim Johnson earned his 28th save with a perfect ninth, giving the Orioles their seventh-straight win in a one-run game. The Orioles are 18-6 in one-run games this season.