The Orioles didn’t need a game-ending three-run homer Wednesday night to complete their second dramatic comeback victory in three games against the Chicago White Sox.
A walk-off wild pitch in the early hours of Thursday morning was enough.
Looking like they were about to lose the rubber match of their three-game series against the struggling White Sox, the Orioles rallied again for a 5-4 win Wednesday on a game-clinching wild pitch in the 12th inning of a 4-hour, 3-minute marathon that also included a 1-hour, 9-minute rain delay.
The hundreds who were left from the announced 22,020 at Camden Yards roared as the Orioles charged out to home plate to meet pinch-runner David Lough.
It was a tempered version of Monday’s 6-4 victory celebration, when Chris Davis hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
“I think we battled. I think in the last three games we showed that no matter what the score, we can be able to tie the game and win the game,” said designated hitter Nelson Cruz, whose eighth-inning grand slam tied the game at 4-4. “I think we showed a lot of heart from the whole group of guys we have here.”
Catcher Nick Hundley led off the bottom of the 12th by drawing a walk from Chicago reliever Daniel Webb (4-2). Nick Markakis followed with a single to right-center field that sent Lough to third base.
Lough actually ran through coach Bobby Dickerson’s stop sign, and fell down the third-base line but scampered back to the base safely.
“I'm coming around third and kind of lost my legs and fell,” Lough said.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura argued that Dickerson touched Lough -- replays showed that Dickerson may have lightly tapped the runner as he headed back to the base -- and that should have resulted in an out. Ventura asked for a review, but the umpires told him that it is not a reviewable play.
Webb then threw his next pitch to the backstop, and Lough dashed home for the Orioles’ sixth win in nine extra-inning games this season.
“It's big. That's our second walk-off win against these guys,” Lough said. “They're a good team. Give credit to them and their pitching staff for holding us. It's good to get these wins and keep rolling with it.”
The second-place Orioles (41-36) are now just 1 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays (44-36), who lost, 5-3, at home to the third-place New York Yankees (40-37) on Wednesday night.
The White Sox (36-43) have dropped 10 of their last 13 games, but they were just four outs away from winning two out of three at Camden Yards.
Then Cruz, arguably the current season’s savior, came to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and the Orioles trailing, 4-0, in the eighth.
On a 2-1 count, Cruz swung at a 95-mph fastball from reliever Javy Guerra and smacked it just over the grounds’ crew shed in right for the game-tying homer.
“You always want to be there. It’s what it’s all about,” said Cruz, who put his right fist over his head in triumph after rounding first base. “Tough situations to get the lead or tie the game.”
It was his second grand slam of the year and 24th homer of the season. He’s now tied with Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion for the major league lead in homers and overtook Encarnacion for the lead in RBIs with 64.
Still in June, Cruz is already approaching his power totals from last year -- 27 homers and 76 RBIs in a season that was cut short by 50 games because of a suspension surrounding his alleged involvement in the Biogenesis’ performance-enhancing drug scandal.
Cruz had grounded into double plays in his previous two at-bats Wednesday before going deep -- becoming the first player in franchise history to ground into two double plays and hit a grand slam in the same game.
When asked if he was trying to homer in the eighth, Cruz joked: “No, I was trying to don’t hit a ground ball to shortstop. I think I hit enough of them tonight. So I was looking for something I could drive.”
Cruz is the second player in the majors this season to hit a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning or later, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout did it June 7, also against the White Sox and also in the eighth inning.
Neither team could score in the ninth Wednesday and then a violent thunderstorm suspended play. When the rain subsided, the clubs traded zeroes until the bottom of the 12th.
Cruz had a chance to win it in the 10th when the White Sox intentionally walked Davis to put runners on first and second with two outs, but Cruz popped up on the first pitch.
“That’s the matchup they wanted I guess. Like I said, I want to be in that situation,” Cruz said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen every time.”
So the theatrics had to wait until the 12th.
The victory allowed the Orioles to improve to 18-18 at home this season -- they haven’t been above .500 at Camden Yards since May 12, when they were 9-8.
It didn’t look promising for the first seven-plus innings, primarily because the Orioles couldn’t do anything against Chicago right-hander Hector Noesi, who didn’t allow a runner to get into scoring position until there were two outs in the seventh.
After getting consecutive singles to start the eighth, the Orioles finally chased Noesi, who was one out short of matching his season high of 7 1/3 innings. He hadn’t made a start this season in which he didn’t allow a run at all -- and that nearly held until Cruz’s homer.
Zach Putnam relieved Noesi in the eighth and induced two flyouts before Scott Downs walked Davis and Cruz drove in four runs on the grand slam -- with two charged to Noesi.
"I thought one of the key at-bats the whole inning was Chris' [walk],” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's one thing to get him 2-2, 3-2, but to finish it off. That won't go unnoticed. That was a key at-bat to get the at-bat to Nelson.”
Those runs allowed Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez to avoid his ninth loss of the season, though he is still searching for his first win at Camden Yards this year.
Jimenez, whom the club signed this offseason to the largest contract (four years, $50 million) for a free-agent pitcher in franchise history, allowed four runs, eight hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday. His home ERA dropped slightly to 6.28.
Despite a season ERA of 4.70 and a dismal record of 2-8, Jimenez has been better recently. Heading into the series finale, Jimenez had allowed two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts -- the only exception was June 8, when he allowed six runs and didn't get out of the third inning against the Oakland Athletics.
And, for much of Wednesday, it looked as if Jimenez would make it five of six outings in which he surrendered two runs or fewer.
After giving up his final hit in the seventh, Jimenez was pulled from the game, walking to the dugout to a mix of cheers and boos.
The Orioles bullpen took over and six relievers combined to throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Tommy Hunter (2-1) got the win by striking out the only batter he faced, pinch-hitter Paul Konerko with two runners on in the 12th.
“Overall I think it was a great team effort,” Cruz said. “The bullpen came up and [threw] the ball amazing and Ubaldo, it looks like he is in a groove now, so it’s nice to see that type of performance from him.”
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