Minneapolis — The Orioles nearly blew another early lead Sunday at Target Field, but the difference in their 11-5 win over the Minnesota Twins compared with some of the team's most disappointing losses this season was that the Orioles offense continued to mash after the game became close.
The result was the Orioles' best offensive output in three weeks, making up for a shaky start from right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez, who still deserved a better fate after being pinched by home plate umpire Lance Barrett.
After dropping the first five games of their seven-game road trip to end the first half of the season, the Orioles (42-46) salvaged a series split with the Twins by taking two straight games in Minnesota going into the All-Star break, marking just the fifth time this season the Orioles have won consecutive road games, and just the second time since May 1.
"We knew in this park … they're a good team and you better stay on top of them or they'll slip back in the game," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles' 11 runs were the most they've scored since a 15-7 home win over the St. Louis Cardinals on June 17.
"They did it to us twice out of the [last] three games," said catcher Caleb Joseph, who matched a season high with three RBIs during his three-hit afternoon. "They kept coming at us, kept charging. They have a hungry lineup over there. When you smell blood, you just have to get in there and do your best to keep tacking on runs. And that's what we did. That's part of the reason why we won the game."
Center fielder Adam Jones had his first multi-homer game of the year — and the 11th of his career — including a three-run blast four batters into the bottom of the first inning off Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson that landed in the second deck of the left-center-field stands. His blast — which went an estimated 452 feet, according to Statcast — was his longest of the season.
After the Orioles went up 5-0 on run-scoring hits by Joseph and Seth Smith in the second, Jiménez nearly gave the lead away in the bottom half of the inning. He allowed a run without yielding a hit by hitting Kennys Vargas to open the inning, then issuing three consecutive walks, including one to leadoff man Brian Dozier with the bases loaded.
Jiménez, who isn't one to complain about calls, was obviously frustrated by not getting strike calls in the lower half of the zone.
"We were watching videos and all those pitches were in the strike zone," Jiménez said. "I don't know what happened. I respect what the umpires do out there, because it's just like us, they're trying to do the best they can. But that inning, I think it was too many times."
Robbie Grossman then took a full-count sinker to left to drive in two more runs, and Max Kepler's double made it 5-4.
The afternoon was setting up for a script similar to the one that played out the last time the Orioles faced Gibson, May 22 at Camden Yards, when they ran out to a 5-0 second-inning lead but Jiménez couldn't hold the lead, unable to get beyond four innings as the game ended in a 14-7 loss that was one of the team's ugliest of the season.
And on Friday night here, right-hander Kevin Gausman squandered a six-run third-inning lead in an eventual 9-6 loss to the Twins.
But Jiménez settled himself, and the Orioles tacked on four runs in the fifth inning — a frame that included Jones' second homer of the afternoon to give him 15 this season.
"That's huge," Jiménez said. "That's huge. The momentum was for them that inning, but the guys, they didn't give up. They kept swinging the bat and they put a lot of runs on the scoreboard."
After Jiménez labored through a 43-pitch inning that had Showalter ready to turn to his bullpen early -- lefty Richard Bleier began warming up after the Twins' first run — Jiménez recovered to retire nine of the final 11 batters he faced.
Jiménez managed to go five innings, leaving the game after throwing 103 pitches.
He stranded two runners in scoring position in the fifth inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Grossman and walked Vargas with two outs, but induced a flyout to center to escape the inning.
"I felt good that I was able to go out there. It was all about the guys," Jiménez said. "They all gave me a chance to do that. We put up five runs, so I just had to go back and concentrate on throwing strikes."
Still, Jimenez's outing wasn't on par with his previous success at Target Field — he entered the afternoon with 4-1 record and 1.81 ERA in seven previous starts — as he allowed four runs on four hits and four walks with three strikeouts. Jiménez has failed to get beyond five innings in six of his past eight starts.
Jiménez conceded that he was flustered by Barrett's strike zone.
"Yeah, it's tough," Jiménez said. "When you're throwing pitches right down the middle and they're not being called strikes, you have no way out. You have to throw the ball where the hitters can't hit it, but it's a part of the game. I know he's trying to do his best out there, but he just had a tough day."
Jones had a five-RBI afternoon, and his production resulted in part from his aggressiveness.
His first home run came on a first-pitch slider that Jones launched over the bullpens.
"It was a slider up and I'm not going to take that too often," Jones said.
His second, also off Gibson, led off the Orioles' four-run fifth inning and came on the second pitch of the at-bat.
Ten of Jones' 15 homers this season have come on the first or second pitch of the at-bat.
Bleier to the rescue
Left-hander Richard Bleier provided the Orioles critical length out of the bullpen, allowing the offense to extend the lead, pitching 2 2/3 innings and allowing one hit and one unearned run in the eighth.
Starting the sixth inning in relief of Jimenez, Bleier retired the first six batters he faced, all on groundouts. Miguel Sanó reached to open the eighth on a fielding error by shortstop Rubén Tejada, then scored after a double by Kennys Vargas and an RBI groundout two batters later.
Bleier's outing was his longest since his first appearance of the major league season, when he pitched four innings in long relief May 1.
"That's one of the things that was attractive about him when he was available was his ability to defend himself against right and left, and also give us multiple innings," Showalter said. "That's unusual to have that. It's one of the things that [T.J.] McFarland [did] when he was with us. He's also shown the ability to pitch in shorter roles, too."
Bleier has allowed just one earned run over his past 20 appearances spanning 22 innings. His ERA this season is 1.48.
Miguel Castro got the final out of the eighth, and closer Zach Britton retired the Twins in order in the ninth.
Britton, making his third appearance since returning from the DL, needed just 12 pitches to get through the inning, recording two groundouts and a strikeout of Grossman to end the game.