After the Orioles lost June 3 in Houston, their fifth straight defeat to drop them six games under .500, even the most ardent proclaimers of "It's still early" had to envision this season careening off the tracks.
Well, apparently it was still early.
With a 9-4 win over the first-place New York Yankees before a rowdy announced 38,909 Saturday night at Camden Yards, the Orioles (31-30) are riding a season-high six-game winning streak and are over .500 for the first time since May 3.
Most important, they are now just two games behind the Yankees (33-28) and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East race, and go for a sweep today with promising rookie Mike Wright on the mound. It would be the club's second consecutive sweep at home and would give them a 6-0 homestand against the rival Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
"It's good. We've got to keep grinding, though. It's a long season ahead of us," said third baseman Manny Machado, who had three hits, including a homer, and drove in four runs to tie a career high. "It's just a step on the road. We've got to keep playing baseball, keep playing the right way and good things will come out."
Yes, still early for the defending AL East champs — go figure.
"It's not one of those things where you say, 'It's just one of those things you've got to go through,'" said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who on Saturday moved into third place on the franchise's managerial wins list with 408. "It's about living in the moment, in today. You want to get better at something every day, and the guys are getting a return for their attention to those things."
The Orioles offense bashed the Yankees for the second straight night, using 15 hits, including three homers and seven total extra-base hits, to score nine runs. On Friday, they scored 11 and have totaled 32 in their five games at home this past week. Showalter joked that the Orioles just wanted to celebrate hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh's 49th birthday in style.
But there's no question that the offense, which has been dragging for much of the season, is getting a lift from the recent additions of Matt Wieters, who had two doubles and scored two runs, and Nolan Reimold, who tripled and homered.
"We are finally playing as a team," Machado said. "We haven't had people healthy and playing together for a long time. So we're excited to have everybody on the field healthy and playing."
On Saturday night, right-hander Bud Norris was making his second start after dealing with bronchitis that sent him to the disabled list and cost him almost a month of the season. His first start back was last Sunday, when he allowed one run in five innings in a win against the Indians in Cleveland — which kick-started this current winning streak.
Saturday didn't start well for Norris, who allowed two runs and three hits in the first inning. With two outs, Mount Saint Joseph graduate Mark Teixeira singled to left to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. He then scored from first when Brian McCann doubled off the right-field wall.
Delmon Young misplayed the carom, forcing center fielder Adam Jones to pick up the ball and heave it. A sliding Teixeira sneaked his left hand under Wieters' tag for the Yankees' second run.
Norris would then retire 13 of 14 batters before the sixth, when he allowed a leadoff single and then a two-run homer to Alex Rodriguez — the Yankee slugger's 666th career homer, 2,995th hit and his 2,000th and 2,001st RBIs. It made him the second player, after Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, to reach the 2,000-RBI plateau since baseball began recognizing the statistic in 1920. (Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Cap Anson also have 2,000-plus RBIs.)
Norris lasted 52/3 innings in the no-decision, allowing four runs on eight hits.
"I worked deeper into the game. It felt good to get back out there and find a groove," said Norris, whose ERA dropped to 8.29. "I really thought I found a groove in the middle innings there. Buck made a decision to go to the 'pen, and we got out of it."
Reliever Chaz Roe (2-0) continued his impressive run by getting a flyout with the bases loaded in the sixth. He threw 21/3 scoreless innings and has allowed just two earned runs in 151/3 innings (1.17 ERA) since his call-up in May.
The Orioles tied it in the fifth on Reimold's second homer in three games, a two-run shot over the scoreboard in right field. Reimold, who was called up from the minors Tuesday, is hitting .367 in 30 at-bats in his career against Yankees starter CC Sabathia. Reimold also tripled in the fifth against Sabathia after Machado's two-run homer.
Yankees rookie center fielder Mason Williams, who made two outstanding defensive plays in the previous inning, crashed into the wall while the ball bounced away, allowing Reimold to make it to third standing up — his first big league triple since 2011.
"I feel good for him," Showalter said about Reimold, who has battled back from two serious neck surgeries. "He's in a moment. He's not thinking about this or that. He's just taking every at-bat as it comes."
The Orioles jumped back into the lead with a three-run sixth against Yankees reliever Chris Martin (0-2), who gave up four hits and threw three wild pitches, setting up all three runs. The big hit was an opposite-field single by Machado that scored Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy, who also had a run-scoring single in the inning.
The Orioles added two more in the seventh on a David Lough pinch-hit home run and a Steve Pearce RBI double. Lough's homer, which just cleared the wall in right and needed a crew chief review before it became official, was his first career pinch-hit homer and the club's first since Chris Davis on June 23, 2014.
Now the Orioles will try to get within one game of the Yankees on Sunday afternoon — something that seemed highly unlikely 10 days ago.
"Nice win," Norris said. "So let's sweep the series tomorrow."