When the Orioles broke spring training 31/2 months ago to heightened expectations and growing excitement, Robert Andino and Mark Hendrickson grappled with opposite emotions.
Hendrickson, the veteran of nine big league seasons, was facing his first trip to the minors in eight years after failing to make the club. Andino, the talented but enigmatic shortstop who had been designated for assignment a year earlier and pigeonholed as a bench player long before that, defied the odds to make the Opening Day roster. After he learned that he made the club, an emotional Andino said he felt this was the first time in his career that he didn't get in his own way of one of his goals.
It was shaping up to be another deflating afternoon at Camden Yards when Andino and Hendrickson took over the type of game the Orioles have lost so many times over the past couple of months. Andino hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fifth as part of the best offensive game of his career, and Hendrickson pitched three scoreless innings in relief of an overmatched Mitch Atkins as the Orioles erased a three-run deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-3, in front of an announced 17,754.
"Anything I can do to help the team win, of course," said Andino, who had a career-high four RBIs, his first homer since April 30, and completed his fine afternoon with a successful suicide-squeeze bunt in the seventh inning. "Pitching kept us in the game and gave us a chance to come back, and we did."
As a result, the Orioles (38-54) salvaged a split of the four-game series of the first-place Indians and enjoyed their first back-to-back victories since June 19-20. They also won after coming back from three runs down to win for the first time since May 26, flipping an all-too-familiar script in recent weeks.
Atkins, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after his second straight poor start, put the Orioles into a three-run hole before their first at-bat, allowing two long homers before being yanked after three rocky innings.
The Orioles got a season-high-tying four home runs, with Adam Jones connecting for a solo shot in the second, Andino striking the first three-run homer of his career in the fifth, Nick Markakis homering for the second consecutive game in the sixth and Matt Wieters adding a solo blast in the eighth.
But the comeback started and ended with the Orioles' bullpen, which allowed just four hits and two walks over six scoreless innings. Making his third appearance for the Orioles after spending the first three months in Triple-A Norfolk's bullpen, Hendrickson (1-0) pitched around a hit and a walk in his first big league victory since May 13, 2010, against the Seattle Mariners.
Jim Johnson got out of a bases-loaded-and-one-out jam in the seventh while the Orioles' lead was just two runs, then Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth.
"I think Mark Hendrickson kept it from snowballing," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He was probably the key to the game, the innings he put up there."
After he was promoted July 9, Hendrickson, 37, called his return to the big leagues one of the biggest achievements of his career because of the perseverance he showed just to make it back. He had a few horrific outings to start the minor league season, and the introspective lefty acknowledged that he seriously considered walking away from the game.
"There's no hiding the fact that at the end of spring training, it was very disappointing, and you have to go down there and deal with some of the things I had to deal with," Hendrickson said. "I wouldn't say it's been a difficult year because it's an opportunity that I kind of embraced. I learned a lot about myself as a person and as a pitcher. Hopefully, that will be the best two months of my career, and I know coming back up here was really meaningful. Just getting back out there felt comfortable doing what I'm doing. It just feels good."
Andino echoed those sentiments. Aside from one stretch during the 2009 season when starting shortstop Cesar Izturis was out after having an appendectomy, Andino has mostly been buried on the bench or in the minor leagues. But Showalter admires Andino's ability and has used him regularly this season with Brian Roberts on the disabled list. Andino has started 61 of the Orioles' 92 games.
"I appreciate this so much [to] show some people … a little bit of what I can do," said Andino, who is hitting .259 with 11 RBIs. "I'm just happy to be here, man. Anything I can do."
Before Sunday, Andino had struggled mightily with runners in scoring position, getting just nine hits while striking out 14 times in 51 at-bats. He stepped to the plate against starter Jeanmar Gomez (0-2) with the Orioles trailing the Indians (49-44) by two runs in the fifth and promptly lined a 3-1 pitch just over the left-field wall for his second homer.
But he sounded just as proud of his successful suicide-squeeze bunt off Joe Smith that scored Derrek Lee from third for the Orioles' sixth run. Smith hadn't given up an earned run in his previous 27 appearances, while Andino has struggled to get a bunt down in several big spots this season.
"When I bunted, I said to myself, 'About time.' So, yeah, it worked out for us, so I'm glad," Andino said.