These are desperate hours for the Orioles, so when Matt Wieters launched a tie-breaking two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, the crowd of 16,083 exploded with a huge ovation.
Or was it just a big sigh of relief?
The Orioles needed something to turn after the Toronto Blue Jays had rallied from a two-run deficit and threatened to drop the O's five games out of first place in the American League East. Wieters' 12th home run of the season was just the thing to carry them a 5-3 victory that evened the three-game series at Camden Yards.
"It’s a big game,’’ Wieters said, “but we’re going to be playing a lot of teams in the division so there are going to be a lot of big games. The key is, be able to enjoy this one but move on tomorrow and we’ve got to come back and win one tomorrow.”
This time, the Orioles did not waste a solid pitching performance from one of the three veterans scheduled to face the big-swinging Blue Jays lineup. Wade Miley had delivered a quality start on Monday, but did not get any run-support. Ubaldo Jimenez did the same on Tuesday, and this time it paid off.
Jimenez had pitched well in a duel with Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer last week, only to get the loss for giving up just one run. He carried a similar outing deep into the game Tuesday night, giving up just three hits through six innings, but he could not hold the two-run lead that Steve Pearce and Manny Machado provide with fifth-inning home runs off 17-game-winner J.A. Happ.
He allowed a two-run homer to Michael Saunders to tie the game 3-3, and would again end up with nothing to show for his second straight quality start.
Jimenez is no stranger to matching up against potential Cy Young candidates in his career. Who would have thought during this difficult season that he would match up so well against Scherzer and Happ?
“It’s been fun,’’ Jimenez said. “I have been in that spot before. When I was in Colorado I had to face the aces. I think it’s fun. You have to try to bring your 'A' game every time out because you know that runs are not going to come easy.”
Jimenez walked two batters in the first inning, but got out of trouble by coaxing a double-play grounder out of Russell Martin. He allowed a double to Saunders in the second inning and Kevin Pillar gave the Jays the early lead with a soft liner that dropped in shallow center field. The Jays got just one more hit until their seventh-inning rally.
“Ubaldo threw the ball great for us today," Wieters said, “so it’s a good win when a guy throws the ball like that, and you’d like to get him the win, but ultimately we got the win and that’s what we wanted to do.
“It’s really impressive. Going from not throwing very much at all to having two quality starts against two of the better-hitting lineups in baseball. It shows you that he comes with a professional attitude even when he hasn’t pitched much. I know his year hasn’t gone the way he wanted it to go, but to be able to stay focused and give us a good outing when we needed it was huge.”
Still, he gave the Orioles effective innings when they needed them the most, even if he stayed at the party a bit too long.
So the Orioles had to go back to work, and they did. Brad Brach (8-2) pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to keep the game tied and Jonathan Schoop drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the eighth to bring Wieters to the plate.
Wieters saw just one pitch from Jays reliever Jason Grilli and parked it on the flag court to help pull the Orioles back to within three games of first place.
Zach Britton came on to pitch a scoreless ninth to record his league-leading 39th save in as many opportunities.
Manny facts: Machado became the youngest player in Orioles history to hit his 100th career home run at 24 years, 55 days. Eddie Murray held that distinction previously, hitting his 100th homer at 24 years and 177 days in 1980. Machado hit it in his 578th game, becoming the third fastest to do it by games played.
Jimenez finally blinks: Like Miley the night before, Jimenez worked into the seventh inning, but gave up three straight hard-hit balls to yield the lead. Russell Martin tomahawked the first pitch of the inning into left field for a single and Troy Tulowitzki hit a line drive to center before Jimenez fell behind on the count to Saunders and surrendered his 22nd home run of the season.