The Orioles beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night in 10 innings on Mark Trumbo’s walk-off single, but it was their four home runs before that hit that allowed the Orioles to get into extra innings. And while the victory was earned by executing station-to-station small ball, the game was a perfect example of the nuances of relying on power.
The calendar has turned to June – with warmer temperatures bringing the promise of balls carrying out in the Baltimore summer heat – and while the Orioles are starting to pile up their power resume, they have been struggling to take the most advantage of their home run-hitting ability.
The Orioles hit four homers for the second time in five games and have 11 in five June games, but they've driven in just 15 runs from those long balls.
Trumbo’s single came after center fielder Adam Jones, who hit a one-out single in the 10th, tagged up into scoring position on Manny Machado’s flyout to the left-field warning track, which allowed Jones to easily beat Andrew McCutchen's throw home on Trumbo’s single to center.
The Orioles’ fifth walk-off win of the season showed their resilience, but there’s no denying that the Orioles are still built on power and that their success will hinge on scoring a large portion of runs with the long ball.
The long ball allowed the Orioles to rally from a 4-1 deficit, but they could only chip away at the lead. After the Orioles' first three runs came on solo homers, second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off Pirates left-hander Tony Watson – Schoop’s second homer of the night – sent the game to extra innings. Schoop’s ninth-inning homer came after Chris Davis opened the inning with a single to right.
“It's hard to [come back] if nobody's on base,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “The one that really got us in there was when somebody was on base in front of Jon. Chris' base hit off the left-hander [Watson] was big. That guy's had a heck of year. … So I look kind of what set that up because the other ones were solos. They were good – they got us back in it.”
This was the month last year when the Orioles set a major league record by hitting 56 homers. But this year, eight of their 11 June home runs, including each of the last six before Schoop’s game-tying shot, have been solo shots.
So it was reassuring to see Schoop take advantage with a man on base in the ninth.
“It's kind of all the way through baseball,” Showalter said. “It's a bloop and a hit by pitch and all of a sudden it's life in the big leagues. First thing that hit me when I got in the big leagues was how quickly leads can go because of power all the way through lineups, including theirs. I don't care what team you're talking about, that potential is always there. That's why guys who can pitch effectively in last three innings are so valuable.”
Schoop leads the Orioles with three homers this month, including two of their three with men on base.
“To be honest, always when I step in there I want to put a charge in the ball,” Schoop said. “I want to drive the ball somewhere. I want to hit the ball hard somewhere. So, I was thinking that at-bat, minimize the ground-ball double play and I wanted to look for a good pitch to hit it hard somewhere.”
The Orioles offense packed little punch for most of the game. Seth Smith’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the first was the team's only scoring until back-to-back homers from Davis and Schoop to open the seventh.
Throughout the season, the Orioles have struggled to make the most out of the long ball, with 48 of their 80 of their home runs, or 60 percent, having come with the bases empty.
The team’s dependence on the home run isn’t new. It’s a well-known part of the Orioles’ identity. Last season, 51.88 percent of their runs were scored on homers, and this year, 48.9 percent have scored by home run (122 of 249).
“That’s kind of one constant with this team,” Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman said. “I’ve said it from day one. We’re always just a couple swings away, and really one away if we have guys on base.”
Last weekend against Boston, they hit four homers against Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday in a 7-5 win, but didn’t score more than three runs in any of their next three games, two of them pitched by the front-line duo of David Price and Chris Sale.
On Tuesday, Smith hit his second leadoff homer in four games in the bottom of the first inning, taking a 1-1 sinker into the center-field bleachers, but the Orioles did little else against Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova for the next five innings. After Adam Jones followed Smith with a bunt single, the Orioles didn’t manage another hit until Jones’ one-out single in the sixth.
In the following inning, Davis hit his 13th homer on the first pitch he saw from Nova, an 83-mph changeup, sending it onto the flag court in right field. And as a show of how quickly the Orioles can turn a game, Schoop hit a 0-1 curveball two pitches later into the left-field stands for his ninth homer.
Schoop’s first homer chased Nova from the game, and the Pirates announced later that he left the game with left knee inflammation.
“Nova, he threw really good,” Schoop said. “He pounded the strike zone and mixed his pitches. Then me and Chris got him. I think after that we kept battling and got the victory. It was a good one.”
Other than their four homers, the Orioles had just five base runners before heading into extra innings – four singles and a walk – and only one of them, Davis after Schoop’s second homer, moved beyond first base.