Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck discusses the Orioles' 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun video)
This year's Orioles are starting to look a lot like last season's division champions in the way they've been able to find ways to win games in the late innings.
As the Orioles opened a seven-game homestand Friday night against the Cleveland Indians, they broke through against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber — a small victory in itself. But they then saw their one-run lead vanish as Indians first baseman Carlos Santana sent a game-tying home run onto the Camden Yards flag court off Darren O'Day in the top of the eighth inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, it took the Orioles just two pitches to claim the lead, energized by Jimmy Paredes' leadoff double and Chris Davis' RBI single one pitch later, as the Orioles orchestrated another late-inning win, 4-3 over the Indians in front of an announced 31,112.
"There's a lot of momentum swings in those games," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You never feel like you break through against Kluber. You've got to have a real good pitching outing."
With their 16th win in 21 games, the Orioles (39-34) attained a new season-high, improving to five games over .500 to enter Saturday just one game out of first place in the American League East.
They are also one game better than they were at this time last season, when they were 38-35 at the 73-game mark.
"As a team, we're playing pretty similar, I think, to last year," said Orioles closer Zach Britton, who converted his 22nd save in 23 opportunities. "We started off slow and then we picked up the pace. For us, it's about everything coming together — pitching, defense, our defense has been outstanding the last couple of months. Pitching is starting to get better, and guys are getting the big hits when we need them."
The Orioles improved to 35-10 when they score at least four runs and are unbeaten in 36 games when they take a lead into the ninth inning.
Paredes, who had three hits on the night, was the catalyst, opening the bottom of the eighth with a double down the right-field line on the first pitch he saw from Indians reliever Marc Rzepczynski. Davis followed with an RBI single to drive in the eventual game-winning run.
"That was important for us," Paredes said. "When you put a good swing and get a double with nobody out, 90 percent of the time you're thinking, 'We're going to score that run now.' We felt so great with that. We come back, then, OK, they tie the game, so we didn't have the momentum anymore. We keep fighting. There's 27 outs. A lot of things can happen. We won the game, we scored the runs we needed."
Britton allowed a leadoff single in the ninth, but retired the next three batters to convert his 18th straight save opportunity.
Kluber was dominant early. He struck out 10 in seven innings and struck out the side in the second and third innings. But the Orioles were able to piece enough offense together against Kluber to hand him a no-decision after he received three or fewer runs of support for the 15th time in 16 starts this season.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen — making his first start in 10 days after being optioned to High-A Frederick to create roster space one day after throwing eight scoreless innings — held the Indians to two runs on seven hits over six innings. He was in line for the win before O'Day allowed the game-tying homer in the eighth.
Chen allowed two runs or fewer for the fourth straight big league start, and became the first Orioles starter to go six innings in seven games.
He allowed a pair of solo homers — Brandon Moss' two-out blast in the second and Ryan Raburn's leadoff shot in the fourth — after not allowing a homer in each of his previous two starts. Chen allowed multiple homers for just the third time in 14 major league starts this season.
"I feel pretty good," Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. "It's just that during the game, I made some mistakes. So, I allowed some extra bases and a couple of home runs."
Chen had retired five of the first six batters he faced before a 2-2 curveball that Moss sent onto the flag court in right field for his 12th homer of the season.
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy evened the score in the bottom of the second, sitting on a 2-0 high fastball and driving it into the left-field stands for his third homer of the season and first since May 15.
Raburn led off the fourth with his fourth homer of the year on a 2-2 hanging curveball.
After Paredes opened the sixth with a single, Chris Parmelee doubled to right to put two runners in scoring position with one out. Hardy flied out to center, but it was deep enough to score Paredes for the game-tying run on a sacrifice fly.
That's when Ryan Flaherty, who had two hits off Kluber on Friday and is 5-for-11 in his career against him, looped a run-scoring single to center to score the go-ahead run.
"Any time you're facing a guy like him, runs are going to be limited," Flaherty said. "We pulled ahead, lost it, were able to bounce back, and grinded a win out. … He won the Cy Young for a reason. He's got good stuff, maybe left a couple of balls over the plate that he wished he didn't. He's one of the best in the league."