Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about the Orioles 12th inning victory Friday night over the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Video by Jon Meoli; photos by Mitchell Layton of Getty Images and Nick Wass of the Associated Press)
The Orioles were running out of excuses, and running out of time. If anyone was going to save their playoff chances, and reverse a slide as sudden as it was stupefying, they had to do it themselves.
It's hard to say that the most powerful team in baseball hitting three home runs late to avoid defeat is improbable, but it was. The Orioles were dead for most of eight innings Friday, and then tied entering the 12th when right fielder Mark Trumbo's 44th home run of the season gave them a 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Before designated hitter Pedro Alvarez and catcher Matt Wieters homered in the eighth and ninth innings to erase a 2-0 deficit, the offense sustained the stagnant status that had made this final homestand so disappointing.
The Orioles have tried all week to manufacture runs, but it was their true identity that showed when it mattered most.
"The talent in the room, it's going to shine through," Trumbo said. "We're going to get the job done. You just hope it's sooner than later. With us winning tonight, we're still in a very good spot.
"… You have to [believe]. That's what gets you through it each game. The unknowns are always going to be there, the what-ifs. You've got to go on guys' track records, you've got to look at what guys are capable of when they execute what they're trying to do. It can go the other way the whole time, but three home runs, three swings were what did it for us."
Leave it to the Orioles (83-71) to stay their execution. If they had lost a fifth straight to fall eight games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox with eight to play, and drop further back in the wild-card race, it would have been on the bats.
The list of rationalizations was withering away. It wasn't Boston's rotation, which has been among the league's best in the second half of the season, that shut them down Friday. It was Shelby Miller, the once-promising right-hander who entered with a 6.90 ERA and allowed three hits in six scoreless innings.
It wasn't a lack of energy from the stands, which earlier this week were full of Red Sox fans and empty seats. On Friday, 37,815 fans were announced as paid attendance, representing the largest announced attendance at Camden Yards in a month.
They came, swaddled in their free Hyun Soo Kim T-shirts, cheered on cue and booed throughout the middle innings as the Orioles stranded each other on the bases with regularity.
And it wasn't starting pitching — Yovani Gallardo had his best start in a month, holding Arizona to two runs on six hits in six innings.
To hear Wieters tell it, the feeling among the members of the lineup was that Friday's game was not one that could go to waste.
"We were focused," he said. "I think this was a game where we kind of knew it didn't matter what the situation was, what we were down by. We were going to have to find a way to win this game. It was actually really fun to play like that. It was sort of quiet, understated — we're going to find a way to do this."
Such resolve didn't show itself until late in the game, though it was required to not get discouraged. The offense had worn a lot of the blame since this homestand began, one that went eight games with the team averaging 2.9 runs per game without much power.
Even worse was when they did get chances to score, they never capitalized. For more than seven innings, Friday fit that mold.
In the first inning, Miller loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a single but struck out Alvarez looking. First baseman Chris Davis walked and moved to third on a double by Trumbo with one out in the sixth inning, but Alvarez and Jonathan Schoop popped out to end the threat. A two-out walk by Kim, then a fastball onto center fielder Adam Jones' biceps put two on for newly minted Most Valuable Oriole Manny Machado with two outs in the seventh, but he struck out on four pitches.
The towering home run Alvarez hit in the eighth inning was consolation, and came with the bases empty. When the Orioles did put men on, and push them into scoring position, they went 1-for-9 with the only hit coming when Jones pulled one into left field with shortstop J.J. Hardy on second in the ninth inning.
Hardy was thrown out at home from short left field, then Machado walked. But Davis struck out swinging to send it to extra innings.
The Orioles kept getting chances because a cadre of six relievers pitched six scoreless innings. Before Trumbo ended the game in the 12th, Machado and Davis left the bases loaded in the 11th.
"We'll take it, especially after having a few chances," Trumbo said. "This is the type of game you definitely want to win because it can be a real gut punch if it goes the other way. It would be a tough one to stomach. Fighting really hard in the thick of things, and then to have a couple chances. … The effort's there, but someone's got to get that big hit eventually. We were fortunate today to get a W."