WASHINGTON – In an incredibly close contest between two evenly matched teams Monday night, the Orioles picked up an 8-2 victory in 11 innings against the Washington Nationals and, potentially, something much more important.
The Orioles are hoping they also discovered a resurgent Chris Davis.
The struggling slugger who had just two singles in his previous 38 at-bats, hit a full-count fastball from reliever Craig Stammen over the right-center wall to jumpstart a six-run 11th inning. After leading the majors with 53 last year, Davis homered for just the 14th time in 2014 and the first since his walkoff June 23 against the Chicago White Sox.
"When we stopped them the inning before, I knew the next inning I was coming up. And with Nelson (Cruz) being as hot as he is, I just kind of thought to myself this is my chance to redeem myself," said Davis, who is hitting .201 this year. "I've been doing everything I can. I want to be the player I know I can be for these guys. I know it will be huge for this team if I can step up and start swinging a little bit. So it was definitely good to come through right there."
J.J. Hardy followed with a solo shot against Stammen (0-4) and later in the 11th Nick Markakis added a RBI double and Manny Machado a two-run homer against Aaron Barrett – matching a club record with six runs in one extra inning for the fourth time in modern franchise history, according to STATS.
"Awesome, awesome. It was cool," said Orioles starter Chris Tillman. "It was just a matter of time before they'd do that."
The Orioles, who are second in the majors in home runs, hit four Monday and scored seven of their eight runs via the longball. The win capped a brutal stretch for the Orioles that included four games in three days lasting a total of 15 hours and 41 combined innings.
"It's been a lot of baseball. A lot of baseball has been played," said third baseman Manny Machado, who had a career-best five hits Monday, including three against Washington starter Stephen Strasburg. "We're just going to keep grinding it, keep having fun like we're doing."
The Orioles (49-40) are now 8-3 in extra-inning games this season and have evened their franchise record to 12-12 in games in Washington since the Nationals (48-40) began playing here in 2005. The Nats are now 2-8 in extra-inning games in 2014.
"They have a good team. We were talking about that before the game," Tillman said. "We knew we had to pitch well in order to win the ballgame. We're happy with it, but we got another one (Tuesday)."
Before a bipartisan announced 35,126 – the home backers kept drowning out the raucous "Let's Go O's' chants – Tillman, 26, and Strasburg, 25, battled in an impressive pitchers' duel.
The Orioles scored first, on a two-run homer by Cruz in the fourth inning. It was just the 12th home run Strasburg had allowed in 19 starts this season.
By smacking Strasburg's 95-mph fastball into the right-center stands, Cruz grabbed the major-league lead with 28 home runs. He also padded his majors' RBI lead with 73 in 88 games this season.
Last year, when Cruz was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis' performance enhancing drug scandal while with the Texas Rangers, Cruz had 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 109 games. His big-league career highs are 33 homers in 2009 and 90 RBIs in 2012 – he's on pace to obliterate both.
Cruz's homer scored Machado, who had singled. No other Oriole besides Cruz and Machado reached base against Strasburg (four hits in seven innings). The highly touted Strasburg struck out nine and didn't walk a batter. In his two starts against the Orioles in his career – the first coming in May 2012 – he has allowed five runs (three earned) in 12 innings while walking one and fanning 17.
And, still, on Monday night Strasburg was handed a no-decision thanks to an equally sharp performance by Tillman. He carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth before giving up a leadoff single to Denard Span and a two-run homer to Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon.
Tillman's outing started out shakily – he walked Span on four pitches in the first. He then retired seven straight before allowing his first hit in the third inning, a single to Strasburg. That kickstarted another run of seven consecutive outs recorded by Tillman, who gave up just two runs on five hits and a walk striking out six.
"He was solid. I tell you the first inning he was a little soft. He picked it up a lot," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You can't forget the outing he gave us. He was good. He even put the ball in play twice (while hitting). We were excited about that. I know he is."
Tillman also had to settle for a no-decision, but still hasn't lost on the road this season in 11 games. He has posted a quality start – six innings or more, three runs or fewer – in five of his last six outings and has dropped his season ERA from 5.20 to 4.11 in that span.
"It was good. I felt much better," he said. "Stayed on the rubber a little bit longer mechanically and that translated into being able to throw strikes with about every pitch.
Reliever Darren O'Day threw two scoreless innings and 34 total pitches – the most the sidearmer has ever tossed in one outing as an Oriole in 176 appearances. T.J. McFarland (2-2) pitched two scoreless innings for the victory.
Eventually it all came together for the Orioles, and the game-winning rally was started by Davis, the player the club arguably needs most to get rolling.
"I'm real happy for Chris," Showalter said. "He's been beating himself up pretty good. Anybody out there doesn't have to do it because he is doing enough on his own. I think everybody on the club really felt good for him to have that big knock there."