The four-run lead that Orioles right-hander Freddy Garcia took into the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday seemed safe enough, especially given the relative ease in which Garcia had held the Angels hitless through the game's first six frames.
"We were on cruise control," first baseman Steve Pearce said. "And then, boom."
The calm suddenly turned chaotic as the Orioles blew their lead and lost momentum until Pearce — who was 3-for-4 starting at first base in place of the injured Chris Davis — slapped a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning to give the Orioles a 5-4 win over the Angels in front of an announced crowd of 32,136 at Angel Stadium.
"It seems like we do this every night," Pearce said "There's no easy wins for us. We find ways to win when it's close in those one- or two-run games. It's the Oriole way, that's what we always say."
The win extended the Orioles' run of consecutive victories when leading after seven innings to 106 games, a streak that dates back to Aug. 8, 2011 and was the second longest of any club during the expansion era (since 1961).
It also ensured a winning record for the Orioles on this 11-game West Coast road trip through Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim. With one game left here in Anaheim before heading home, the Orioles are 6-4 on the trip.
Garcia, a 36-year-old veteran of 14 major league seasons who signed a minor league deal before the season began with hopes of breaking into the Orioles' starting rotation, dominated in his Orioles debut. Through his first six innings, Garcia didn't give up a hit and allowed just one baserunner — a second-inning walk to Mark Trumbo.
"He just got us off the field," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It was a day game after a night game. With the number of games we've played in a row on the road, there are some less than crisp legs and I think getting us on and off the field [was important]. This is Freddy. This is what he's been doing for a long, long time."
Garcia, whose pitching repertoire now is more about feel than fireballing, duplicated the success he had in five starts with Triple-A Norfolk, aggressively pounding the strike zone with his sinker. He went into the seventh having thrown 13 of 18 first-pitch strikes and just 65 pitches at that point.
"The most important thing was throwing first-pitch strike," said Garcia, who has a 2.66 ERA in 29 career starts against the Angels. "Basically with those guys, you have to throw a strike to them because when you are behind that's when you get hurt."
Garcia, who had the chance to opt out of his minor league contract after his fifth start a week ago Sunday but remained with hopes of getting a call-up, allowed two runs on three hits over 6 2/3 innings with two strikeouts and one walk. Out of Garcia's 78 pitches on the day, he threw 51 strikes. He also threw 16 of 24 first-pitch strikes.
But the Angels rallied to tie the game at 4 to force extra innings, making the Orioles — who left 10 men on base — pay for several missed scoring opportunities in the early innings.
The Orioles (18-13) battered Angels starter Tommy Hanson, placing 10 runners on base over five innings, but they couldn't deliver the knockout blow to chase Hanson from the game. Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy hit solo homers off Hanson (2-2), but the Orioles also stranded seven baserunners, including five in scoring position.
The Orioles were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Pearce's game-winning hit in the 10th, which came with two outs off Angels reliever Garrett Richards.
"That was frustrating for us because we had some opportunities to open it up, but we weren't able to do it," Showalter said. "That's the way it is sometimes. You've got to find a way sometimes. It doesn't always follow a script.
"You knew they were going to make a run at you."
And they did. After Erick Aybar broke up Garcia's no-hit bid with a leadoff single to center in the seventh, Trumbo crushed a two-run homer to left off Garcia to make it a 4-2 game.
The Angels (11-19) then tied the game in the eighth with two more runs, capped by Mike Trout's hit that looped over Pearce's head and into right field to score the game-tying run off Darren O'Day.
With the home crowd at Angel Stadium growing louder, Los Angeles had the winning run on base twice in the bottom of the ninth against Tommy Hunter but couldn't score. Trumbo drew a leadoff walk but was thrown out by backup catcher Chris Snyder trying to steal second. And Howie Kendrick hit a two-out single and stole second but was stranded there.
"It's about guys getting an opportunity and guys seizing it," said Hunter, who was the winning pitcher. "You can go back to last year, you can go to this year. You can go back, this team is here and we are not going anywhere. It's going to be a different guy every day. Snyder comes up with a big clutch throw in the ninth and Pearce in the 10th. What more can you ask for?
In the next half-inning, Pearce, who has struggled at the plate this season, came up with the big hit with two outs, slapping a single to right field that allowed Nolan Reimold — who homered, drove in two runs and scored two runs — to beat Trumbo's off-target throw to the plate.
"I didn't want to over swing there," Pearce said. "I didn't want to be the hero with the homer. I just wanted to get good wood on it, something away. I could see the ball a little deep and hit the ball to the right side. I feel like I've been jumpy the last couple days. So I let it get deep, see the ball and drive it the other way and hopefully Reimold will score on it. He's a great baserunner."
Pulling out another close win, especially after losing the lead and the momentum late on the road, once again demonstrated the Orioles' resilience.
"It seems like we are in that situation, day in, day out," Pearce said. "And to be able to win those games on the road with their fans there, it got loud when they were starting to rally. It was definitely huge, a huge win today to come back the way we did."