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Even in walk-off win, Orioles struggling to sustain offense

There's no doubt the Orioles lineup has big-inning potential, and there was no greater example of that than Friday's nine-run seventh inning in Texas.

But aside from that inning, the Orioles have been unable to manufacture any sort of sustainable offense since their 7-0 start to the season, which is a troubling sign.

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If you don't count Friday's seventh inning, the Orioles' three-run inning against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in their 4-3, 10-inning victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night was their most productive in six games. But after scoring three runs off Dickey five batters into the game, the Orioles were held scoreless until a passed ball scored the winning run in the 10th.

"Anytime you win, especially against an AL East opponent, especially against Toronto, they're all super fun," said Caleb Joseph, who raced home from third when reliever Joe Biagini's 2-1 pitch hit off catcher Josh Thole's glove and skipped behind the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 10th. "We really battled through that game. Our pitchers did a great job. We keep passing the baton. That's what we did in the last inning, and sure enough, we were able to capitalize on a mistake."

Ultimately, the Orioles won Wednesday's game – they also proved they could do so without the flurry of homers that dictated their first-week surge – and now have a chance to win their third straight series against a division opponent to open the season. But the fact that the Orioles offense has basically had two big innings in the past week has to be cause for concern.

Since scoring four runs in the seventh inning of their 9-5 win in Boston on April 12, the Orioles have scored more than two runs in an inning just twice. Take away Friday's nine-run inning and Wednesday's three-run first and the Orioles have scored two runs in an inning three times and one run in 10 others during that time.

The Orioles had the opportunity to blow the Blue Jays out early Wednesday, using station-to-station baseball to score three runs quickly with three hits and a walk off Dickey.

Joey Rickard opened the game by beating out a slow grounder to third for an infield single. He scored on Manny Machado's double to the gap in left-center field, and after a seven-pitch walk to Adam Jones, Chris Davis' long single off the right-field wall drove in Machado to give the Orioles a quick two-run cushion. Jones scored on Mark Trumbo's double-play ball, providing the Orioles with an early 3-0 lead.

But after that, the Orioles weren't able to muster much offensively. It took Dickey 20 pitches to get through his first four hitters of the night without recording an out. But he needed just 32 pitches to retire the next eight hitters through the first three innings.

Dickey is a pitcher who is best attacked early. If he starts to get a feel for his knuckleball as the game progresses, he can make quick work of an opposing lineup, and on Wednesday, he made a quick recovery after a rough first inning.

"He was just missing [early], a lot of borderline pitches that went our way the first inning," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You don't know where the opportunity is going to be there. He's such a unique pitcher, it's not one of those things if he can't get his breaking ball over his stuff is not as good. You know he's going to find it. And it'd be easy to say, we should have added on more runs, should have added on more runs.

"It's hard. This guy is good. And, coming out of the bullpen, it's such a completely different look for the next group coming in, it takes a while it adjust your tempo back up again at the plate."

After allowing those three first-inning runs, Dickey allowed just two hits over his next five innings. The Orioles' leadoff hitters reached base in the fourth and sixth innings, but double-play balls quickly erased any potential rally. J.J. Hardy's two-out double in the fourth marked the only Orioles base runner in scoring position against Dickey after the first inning.

Dickey, who hadn't won a game against the Orioles since joining the Jays in 2013, looked like he might not be able to get out of the first inning Wednesday. He left having gone six innings.

"I don't think he quite found it in the first inning, kind of lost control and we took advantage of it," said Rickard, who had three hits on the night. "But he's a good pitcher. Once he found that knuckleball working, it was tough putting something together."

The Orioles had the opportunity to break open a tied game in the eighth, after Rickard hit a two-out double off reliever Gavin Floyd, who then intentionally walked Machado with first base open. But Jones grounded out to third to end the threat.

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After averaging nearly six runs per game (5.7) over their first seven games, the Orioles have scored four runs or fewer in five of their past six games. Wednesday was an example that the Orioles can win game when runs are at a premium and they're not hitting homers.

The victory was what the Orioles wanted on Wednesday night. And after eight scoreless innings, a two-out rally and a passed ball gift-wrapped the win – but the Orioles have to still be looking for more consistent offense.

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