The nine-game losing streak had exhausted Dave Trembley's patience, resulted in some sleepless nights and called into question the security of his job, but it clearly hadn't robbed the Orioles manager of his sense of humor.
After the Orioles finally got back into the win column Sunday with an 8-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics, backed by another solid start from rookie Brian Matusz and four RBIs from third baseman Ty Wigginton, Trembley proclaimed, "We're starting the pennant drive."
Of course, Sunday's streak-busting victory, the Orioles' first against the A's at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in 10 games, makes the Orioles only 2-11, still the worst record in the American League by two games. It allowed them to salvage one game of the four-game series.
But for one day, that hardly mattered to the Orioles, who for the first time since beating the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8, listened to music in the visiting clubhouse after the game. Center fielder Adam Jones and reliever Will Ohman jokingly shared a hug, and the rest of the Orioles ate the post-game spread with smiles on their faces. It had certainly been a while.
"Hopefully, we can have a streak now in the other direction," Wigginton said before boarding a team charter flight to Seattle, where the Orioles will start a three-game series today. "It's definitely a lot more fun coming in this clubhouse after a win than what we've had to go through lately."
The Orioles finally put together an all-around performance, rather than just relying on one element. Fighting a head cold all week, Matusz outdueled A's ace Brett Anderson in a battle of two promising young left-handers, allowing three runs, eight hits and a walk while striking out eight over 61/3 innings. Matusz now has both of the Orioles' victories this season.
Closer Jim Johnson, who blew a save the previous day, shut the door this time, permitting only one base runner over two innings.
The much-maligned offense tallied a season high in runs and scored one more run than it had in the previous three games of the series. The Orioles went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position after going 11-for-87 (.126) in such situations through the first 12 games.
In the third inning alone, they got two run-scoring hits with two outs, doubling their number of hits this season with two outs and runners in scoring position. The Orioles had been 2-for-44 (.045) with runners in scoring position and two outs.
And they did most of the damage against Anderson, who entered the game having not allowed a run in his first 12 innings this season.
"The predicament that we've been in, it's important for us to get up early on anybody," Trembley said. "They really haven't been our cup of tea no matter who we're facing. We've been facing Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale since the start of the season. They've been reincarnated every time we've played."
Wigginton hit a two-out, two-run double off Anderson in the third inning, and Nick Markakis followed with an RBI single. Getting his first start of the season, outfielder Lou Montanez had an RBI single in the fourth.
Designated hitter Nolan Reimold extended the Orioles' lead to 6-1 in the fifth with a two-run double off the glove of leaping A's center fielder Rajai Davis. Trembley gave the struggling Reimold the green light with a 3-0 count, and the Orioles' cleanup hitter for the day drove Anderson's fastball deep to the left-center-field wall.
"It was kind of a perfect storm," said Anderson, who had been awarded a four-year, $12.5 million contract by the A's two days earlier. "I had a scoreless streak going. I just signed a contract. The Orioles are not off to the best start. I don't know if I was destined for failure or what, but that was not my best day."
Matusz, on the other hand, was pretty much in control. He struck out the side in the first inning on 14 pitches. He allowed an RBI single to Jake Fox in the fourth inning but stranded him with a strikeout of Adam Rosales.
Oakland scored a run on Matusz in the sixth on Kevin Kouzmanoff's RBI double, and there were a few more anxious moments in the seventh when Orioles center fielder Adam Jones lost Eric Patterson's fly ball in the sun, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
Matusz got Davis to bounce into a fielder's choice before giving way to Ohman. Eric Chavez hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-3, and Ryan Sweeney followed with an infield single that deflected off Ohman and into the glove of shortstop Cesar Izturis. Izturis had no play at first, but he caught Davis too far off second and threw to Justin Turner for the tag and the inning's final out.
The three-run lead, which grew to five on Wigginton's two-run shot off Chad Gaudin in the ninth, allowed the Orioles to exhale for the first time in 10 days.
"This was huge with the losing streak that we had," Matusz said. "We just had to get over that hump. We were able to do that today, and we'll continue to roll with it."