Steve Tolleson was glad to have the opportunity to feel the thrill of one more Orioles extra-inning win — to participate in one more frenetic home-plate pile-on.
From his first day in an Orioles uniform, the utility infielder knew his next wasn’t guaranteed. A rash of injuries over the past five weeks offered him opportunity, but no promises.
And while Matt Wieters provided the late-inning heroics, giving the Orioles their second walk-off victory in as many days with a 10th-inning game-winning double for a 5-4 win, it was Tolleson that truly provided the middle-inning spark that Baltimore needed to take two of three from the Phillies in front of a sellout crowd at Camden Yards on Sunday afternoon.
With the Orioles trailing 4-1 in the fourth with few answers for Phillies starter Cliff Lee, Tolleson put his team on his back with one swing. He took a 2-1 cutter from Lee and sent it into the left-field stands for a game-tying three-run homer.
With second baseman Brian Roberts, who hasn’t played in a major league game in nearly 13 months with concussion symptoms, slated to be activated from the disabled list Tuesday, it might have been Tolleson’s last game before being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk.
But before then, Tolleson played a pivotal role in the Orioles’ franchise-record ninth extra-inning win.
“That’s kind of my thing this whole time,” Tolleson said. “I knew that I was up here on borrowed time. I don’t know if that’s going to be the end of it. … Roberts is irreplaceable on this team, and we’re excited to have him come back.”
Another pro-Phillies crowd of 45,267 — the second straight sellout crowd in as many days — gave Camden Yards the feel of being in South Philadelphia, but the Orioles claimed their fourth inter-league win in six games and second series win this year.
Tolleson entered his fourth-inning at-bat with just one hit in his past 11 at-bats. Mark Reynolds drew a two-out walk and newcomer Steve Pearce doubled to give Tolleson two runners in scoring position.
Tolleson’s shot, a towering blast that landed about 15 rows deep down the left-field line, was just his third homer in 85 major league at-bats.
“I had a real good idea what I was getting,” said Showalter, who coached Tolleson’s father, Wayne, in the Yankees organization. “You've got a pretty good idea what he's going to bring. You like to see good things happen to people who approach the game the right way, especially where he’s been. This is a guy that has a really good pedigree and it played out today.”
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Jason Hammel struggled with his control early — throwing 51 pitches in his first two innings — but still went six innings. Hammel allowed three runs in the second inning and flirted with disaster throughout the early innings, loading the bases in the first, second and fourth innings. But it was Tolleson’s homer that Hammel said gave him a boost on the mound.
“It was huge,” said Hammel, who retired the last seven batters he faced. “That was new life for me. I was at that point, that was us fighting back right there. It was kind of dead and hot out and I was kind of grinding through it and it was a big, big uplift.”
Adam Jones reached base in the 10th on former Oriole Ty Wigginton’s fielding error at third, setting the stage for Wieters’ game-winning hit off left-handed reliever Joe Savery.
The Orioles bullpen threw four scoreless to pave the way for Wieters’ hit, lowering its AL-best ERA to 2.37. The pen allowed just one earned run in 14 innings in the three-game series.
“It’s the bullpen,” Wieters said. “The bullpen’s doing a great job of keeping teams where they’re at. If you keep the other team from scoring, you’re going to get a chance to win in extra innings. Somebody’s going to get a run. The bullpen’s been great keeping us in games, and once you get in extras, keeping us right there.”