Kevin Gausman admits that he used to fear pitching at Camden Yards. Because of its hitter-friendly reputation, he was preoccupied with giving up homers. But part of Gausman's growth has been becoming comfortable pitching in his home park while gaining confidence with his success there.
And on Saturday night, the 24-year-old Gausman stymied a dangerous Detroit Tigers lineup — giving the Orioles the strong starting performance they were missing the previous two nights against the Tigers — as he threw seven solid innings in a 6-2 win in front of an announced sellout crowd of 45,968 at Camden Yards.
With the victory, the Orioles (53-50) won for the seventh time in eight games. They moved into sole possession of second place in the American League East and pulled to within five games of the division-leading New York Yankees.
The previous two nights, the Orioles fell behind the Tigers early as starters Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen both had their shortest starts of the season. But the Orioles rallied in both games, winning by a run Friday after losing by a run Thursday. But on Saturday, the Orioles took a lead early and never looked back as Gausman kept the Tigers bats in check.
"Anxiety comes from not feeling like you're capable of doing something," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "This is a really good offensive team, statistically maybe the best in baseball. You can't let your guard down at any time. There's a crooked number waiting on you. We pitched real well tonight."
After going through a stretch in which the offense sputtered, the Orioles are averaging more than seven runs per game this series and have scored at least six runs in four of their past five games.
The Orioles lineup had a different look to it as deadline-acquisition Gerardo Parra made his first start with his new team, playing left field and batting second. Matt Wieters also made his second career start at first base, his first since 2011, and had two hits.
Catcher Caleb Joseph drove in three runs, hitting his eighth homer of the season in the fourth, a two-run shot that gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead. Joseph had his second three-RBI game of the season, both occurring in the past month. The Orioles are 34-5 when Joseph drives in a run and 16-2 when he posts multiple RBIs.
Manny Machado hit his 23rd homer of the season, a solo blast that he lined into the Orioles bullpen in left-center to chase Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez (10-9) in the seventh.
In Gausman's third start since joining the Orioles rotation for good — he began the season in the bullpen and spent nearly six weeks on the disabled list — he held the Tigers to two runs over seven innings to earn his first win of the season as a starter. He was the beneficiary of six runs of support after receiving two runs or fewer in each of his previous five starts.
Gausman (2-2) had his second straight start of at least seven innings, allowing just four hits while striking out six and issuing no walks for the first time as a starter this season. Gausman has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his six starts this season.
"Just knowing when you're going to pitch and when you're going to throw your sides only helps you," Gausman said. "[I'm] definitely feeling comfortable. I think I feel really comfortable pitching here, which is a lot different than when I first came up. I was always scared to give up home runs here. Everybody tells you how small the park is, and it's a hitter's park. That's one thing; I've just kind of felt comfortable here this year."
Gausman retired the first 11 batters of the game before Ian Kinsler's two-out single in the fourth. The Tigers' only runs off Gausman came on third baseman Nick Castellanos' two-run homer in the fifth. Other than that, the Tigers (50-54) had just one base runner in scoring position against Gausman on Kinsler's ground-rule double in the sixth. But Gausman retired Victor Martinez to escape that jam.
"The stuff has always been there and we've known that since the day he's shown up," Joseph said of Gausman. "Each and every start he makes here, he's got even more command, more command with the power. It's not like the command is coming with 92; it's coming with 95, 96, 97. Kevin is getting into a nice routine here as well. He was in the bullpen and made a few other starts and now he's starting to settle in here as well. And that's the kind of starting pitching we need to make a run here."
Over his past two starts, Gausman has a 1.23 ERA. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves on Monday. In his three starts at Camden Yards this season, Gausman has a 0.86 ERA, having allowed just two runs over 21 innings.
"I'm just a little bit different pitcher than when I first came up," Gausman said of his success at home. "When I first came up, it was kind of stay away from guys more than be aggressive and go at them. That kind of got me in some trouble definitely, but I think that is the biggest thing."
In his first game with the Orioles, Parra contributed immediately. After receiving a standing ovation from the seventh sellout crowd of the season upon being introduced for his first at-bat in the first inning, Parra doubled to right field. That put two runners in scoring position after Machado opened the inning with a single.
"I [was] surprised," Parra said of the reception. "I [felt] a little bit nervous. I want to say thank you for the fans. I wanted to concentrate in that at-bat and make it a good one. … I feel happy. I feel like this is my house. I'm happy. I just wanted to take a good pitch and make a base hit. That's a good double, starting in the first inning. That's a big point."
Two batters later, Machado scored on Chris Davis' RBI groundout and Wieters' two-out single brought Parra home, giving the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
After Jimmy Paredes opened the second inning with a double, Joseph drove in his first run of the night with a single to left. Joseph then hit a 2-1 delivery from Sanchez into the left-field seats in the fourth inning to give the Orioles a 5-0 lead.
The six runs the Orioles scored off Sanchez were the most he has allowed since May 24, with a span of 11 starts in between. Sanchez held the Orioles to two runs over six innings on July 17 in a 7-3 Tigers win in the first game after the All-Star break.