Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about beating the Mariners and sweeping the series. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles' long winning streak appeared to be in serious danger when right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez left the mound in the third inning Wednesday, but the club's August offensive onslaught continued in an 8-7 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Camden Yards.
Catcher Welington Castillo drove in three runs with a double and a home run in a four-hit performance that was catalytic for an Orioles lineup that hit four more homers and came from four runs down to complete a sweep of the Mariners. The victory was the Orioles' season-best seventh in a row and pushed them three games over .500 at 68-65.
Suddenly, the Orioles are closing in on the second American League wild-card slot and seem to consistently get the big hit or the big play they need to stay on a roll at a good time.
"At this time, we've been able to dial up what was needed on a given day," manager Buck Showalter said. "We're not always going to be perfect in the pitching department. That's a tough act to follow [Tuesday] night.
"That's a hungry club getting ready to go home and have an off day. It's really, really hard, one, to win a major league baseball game and it's really hard to win three games in a row off the same team. So that was a challenge today, but our guys were ready."
But it was a nail-biter to the end, the victory requiring Jonathan Schoop's clutch two-out RBI single in the eighth and Zach Britton's scoreless ninth to nail it down. It was Britton's 13th save.
The Orioles had taken the early lead in the second inning on a solo home run by rookie Trey Mancini, his 23rd, and an RBI double by Castillo. But Jiménez, who looked sharp at the outset, came unglued in the third.
He got the first out of that inning before allowing five straight batters to reach base. Former Oriole Nelson Cruz tied the game with a bases-loaded single and the Mariners (66-68) reloaded the bases on a base hit by Robinson Canó.
Jiménez had a chance to get out of trouble when he struck out Kyle Seager and got ahead 0-2 against Mitch Haniger, but instead served up a two-run double to put Seattle in front. Showalter pulled him at that point, but Jiménez would be charged with two more runs when catcher Mike Zunino popped up a pitch from reliever Miguel Castro and the ball fell untouched between Tim Beckham and Adam Jones.
It was a fairly quick hook, considering that the first two runs came home on a ground ball that hit the second base bag and might have otherwise been turned into an inning-ending double play. Jiménez wasn't happy to go, but he wasn't in a position to complain.
"I don't think anything changed," he said. "They were just able to get a couple soft hits and unfortunately for me and the team, I got a ground ball that could have been a double play hit the base. The only pitch I probably would like to get back was the 0-2 pitch. I left it right down the middle.
"Of course, you don't want to come out after 40-something pitches, but it was not up to me. I just go as long as they allow me and that's part of the game."
Jiménez had retired seven of the first eight batters he faced before allowing six of the next seven to reach base. In his past three starts, he has allowed 17 runs on 23 hits over just 12 innings.
The Orioles staged a two-out rally in the fourth inning to turn it into a one-run game. Mark Trumbo singled and Castillo hammered a two-run homer to left off former Orioles prospect Ariel Miranda. Craig Gentry followed with a similar shot to give the Orioles their 11th set of back-to-back home runs this season.
Castillo has eight hits in his past 11 at-bats, but said he isn't doing anything that he hasn't been doing all year.
"I just go there with my plan and look for my pitch and don't go away from my plan," he said.
Schoop tied the game in the fifth with his 30th home run of the season, tying him with Manny Machado for the club lead, and the Orioles moved back on top in the sixth on Machado's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
The Orioles went into bullpen-win mode at that point, but Brad Brach (4-4) allowed a two-out home run to Haniger in the eighth to tie the game again.
Castillo's fourth hit got things started for the Orioles in the bottom of the eighth and Schoop would single home pinch runner Caleb Joseph for the go-ahead run, but not before Showalter won a manager's challenge to keep Joseph at second base after he initially was called out as doubled off on a lineout by Beckham.
"I think it's kind of, it's, 'OK, what do we need to do tonight to win?''' Showalter said. "It's been that way every night, but there have been different things that have been the difference maker. There's a lot of things that have contributed, whether it's defense or a good base-running play or a good relay or throw out somebody stealing or a really well-pitched game."