The Orioles defeat the Yankees, 5-2, in the series opener. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
Seven games into this young but already unsettling Orioles season, the breakout inning at the plate finally came on a night when it seemed like it never would.
Beginning with a bloop single by second baseman Jonathan Schoop, continuing with a a line-drive home run to left-center field by center fielder Adam Jones, and punctuated by a two-run single by freshly christened leadoff man Trey Mancini, the Orioles' five-run seventh inning provided enough offense for a second win of the season Thursday night and a dash of hope for the team's bats long term.
Sure, it included a home run, as most big Orioles innings do. But most promising to Jones, who has provided most of the team's big moments offensively this year, was what came after it.
"It's huge, because then it started back over after I hit the home run," Jones said. "The bases got empty, and we put up three more runs. [Anthony] Santander with a massive hit, and Trey to top it off. When we all are swinging the bats good, we just pass the baton to the next guy. When you've got a guy in front of you who hits the ball hard, it's incentive to itself to try and do the same thing."
Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka had used just 71 pitches to set the Orioles down with seven strikeouts and only three hits through six innings before Schoop fouled off four straight pitches and flared the eighth pitch of the seventh inning's first at-bat into center field. Jones followed him two pitches later with his club-high third home run of the season, and the Orioles were off to the races.
"Adam is off to a good start," manager Buck Showalter said.
First baseman Chris Davis grounded into the shift for the inning's first out, but third baseman Tim Beckham started the engine again by singling through the vacated right side of the infield to chase Tanaka. Against reliever Chad Green, Beckham went first to third on a single to right field through the shift by designated hitter Colby Rasmus, and scored when Santander doubled to right-center.
Mancini, who ended the day with three singles out of the leadoff spot to more than double his season total of hits, singled through the right side to score both Rasmus and Santander and make it five runs.
Showalter said that's the type of output he wants to see from Mancini should he stay atop the lineup.
"I would prefer to have him hit somewhere else, but the batting order is what it is," Showalter said. "I had a good talk with him today. I think he tried to bring something a few times when we used him this spring. I just want him to have his at-bats and to heck with where you are in the batting order. You may only leadoff once a game. He's not a guy that's going to clog the bases. I want to present a real challenge for the other pitcher to have to grind that first inning and Trey can help us do that."
That kind of inning has eluded the Orioles throughout this long season. They'd scored just 14 runs all season, and never more than two in an inning, which they accomplished three times. All eight others came in one-run drips, and up until Thursday's seventh, 51 of their 62 innings were fruitless.
"I think more than anything it's just guys sticking with the process, and just trusting," said starter and winning pitcher Andrew Cashner, who benefited from the outburst. "It's been a tough go for us to start, but with Adam hitting that big homer — he had the big homer on Opening Day — I think it kind of let some guys breathe a little bit. We ended up scratching a few. That two-out hit from Trey was huge."
It might have been dumb luck, with the batted ball gods finally catching up to an Orioles team that. It could have been a smarter approach, taking what Tanaka and Green were giving them. But whatever ended up aligning in the Orioles' seventh Thursday, it was enough to hand a comfortable lead over to a bullpen that had its three top relievers — Mychal Givens, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach — all rested.
After Givens relieved Cashner following six innings of one-run, two-hit ball, he allowed a run on two hits and a walk while retiring two batters. O'Day finished off the seventh and loaded the bases on a walk and two hit batters in the eighth before getting out unscathed. Brach worked around a walk with two strikeouts for his first save of the season.