As dormant as the Orioles' bats seem to get sometimes with runners in scoring position, they always seem to be just one hit away from an offensive eruption.
Despite managing just one hit – a third-inning single by pitcher Bud Norris – in their first five innings Sunday afternoon against right-hander Matt Cain, the Orioles rallied from an early two-run deficit to score 10 unanswered runs for a 10-2 throttling of the defending World Champion Giants in their series finale in San Francisco in front of an announced sellout crowd of 41,622 at AT&T; Park.
The win gave the Orioles (65-52) their first back-to-back road series wins since the first two weeks of May, when Baltimore won in Anaheim and Minnesota.
The Orioles have won four of five games -- and both of the first two series -- on their three-city, eight-game interleague road trip against National League West teams San Diego, San Francisco and Arizona.
They also picked up a game on AL East-leading Boston and now trail the Red Sox by 4 ½ with 45 games remaining in the regular-season. With the Rays' 8-2 loss to the Dodgers, the Orioles at now 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for second place in the division. The O's are also 1 1/2 games out of the wild-card, behind the Rays and the A's.
“We know what’s ahead of us,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There’s 40-some odd games left. ... We try and take a game and get after it and see where it takes us. It’s a journey. It won’t be long until we make the last turn.”
A day after going hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position in a one-run loss Saturday afternoon, the Orioles were 6-for-11 in those situations Sunday.
J.J. Hardy’s 21st home run – a two-run shot in the seventh inning off Cain – was the biggest hit of the afternoon, giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead and Hardy the major league home run lead among shortstops.
Center fielder Adam Jones capped a four-RBI day with a three-run homer in the ninth off left-hander Barry Zito, his 24th of the season to give him a career-high 85 RBIs on the year. Over his current nine-game hitting streak, Jones is 17-for-36 – a .472 batting average – with two homers, eight runs and 11 RBIs.
Norris – who allowed two runs in the first inning – woke up Sunday with back tightness, prompting a visit from head trainer Richie Bancells in the second inning when Showalter said he noticed some unusual motions from his starting pitcher. But Norris remained in the game for five innings – he allowed two runs on six hits -- until he was removed for a pinch hitter in the top of the sixth.
“I know that I program myself to go 100-plus pitches every time out, 120 [pitches], depending on what it is,” said Norris, who threw 98 pitches Sunday. “National League game, my spot came up, I was a little upset but I understand why. It’s not about me, it’s about the team winning the game. And two out of three is huge. I just wanted to go out there and do my part to help us win games.”
Just five batters into the bottom of the first, Norris trailed 2-0. Brandon Belt laced an RBI double that one-hopped off the left-center field fence and scored Marco Scutaro, who led off the inning with a single.
Two batters later, Hunter Pence followed with an opposite-field double off the high right-field wall to score Belt.
Norris was in trouble again in the second inning, allowing a two-out double to Scutaro followed by a walk to Brandon Crawford, but Nate McLouth saved Norris with a sliding catch on Belt’s looping ball in shallow left center to end the inning.
Norris – who grew up just north of San Francisco in Marin County -- said his back began to loosen up as the game went on and he received treatment after the second inning.
“I had to make some adjustments on the rubber ... but that’s all part of the game. You got to keep making adjustments,” Norris said. “Guys made some great plays behind me.”
He was also aided by several early defensive plays that helped keep the Orioles’ deficit within reach. In the first inning, Jones made a running back-handed catch in the spacious left-center gap and Hardy sped into foul ground in the fifth inning to make a running grab by the Giants bullpen.
“At that point, it’s keeping the game a lot closer,” Hardy said. “If we’re not scoring runs right there, we’re keeping them close and eventually we’re going to score runs.”
Eventually they did. Cain had retired 15 of 16 before second baseman Brian Roberts opened the sixth inning with a triple, his first since Opening Day 2011. Two batters later, McLouth put the Orioles on the scoreboard by lining a one-out single to right.
Following Hardy’s homer in the seventh, the Orioles rallied for four more runs in the eighth as the first six batters of the inning reached base.
Manny Machado set the tone early, dropping a bunt single with one on and no outs. Reliever Jose Mijares’ throw was wild for an E1, putting runners at the corners with no outs.
Markakis followed with an RBI single up the middle to give the Orioles a 4-2 lead.
Jones doubled home Machado, and following an intentional walk to Chris Davis, Matt Wieters singled home Markakis. Jones scored on Roberts’ sacrifice fly.
“I think everyone says that hitting is contagious,” Hardy said. “I think there’s times this season when we’ve been really good at getting guys in and then there’s times when we’ve been pretty bad. I think at the end of the year we’re going to be right where we need to be.”
Over the road trip, the Orioles bullpen has allowed just one run over 14 innings, pitching to a 0.64 ERA.
“With the bullpen we got and how they’ve been throwing as of late, it makes us feel a lot better,” Jones said. “We do like our chances. Since we were able to score in the eighth and ninth we didn’t even really have to get to the back end of our bullpen.”