ANAHEIM, Calif. — The first five weeks of the Orioles’ season has included more than its share of hotel rooms and plane rides, ending with a marathon 11-day, 11-game stretch to the West Coast.
And while it’s still early in the 2013 season, the Orioles’ strong showing during a trip that took them through Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim undoubtedly made for an easier cross-country flight back to Baltimore.
With their 8-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, the Orioles finished their trip with a 7-4 record going into Monday’s highly anticipated off day.
And they did so with the same lunch pail mentality that defined last year’s team.
“We’re going to have to do it again and again,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You turn to another challenge. Usually your challenge, after a long road trip is the first couple days at home.”
The Orioles (19-13), who ended the trip by taking three of four from the Angels for their seventh series win in 10 series this season, overcame an early two-run deficit while receiving contributions from throughout the batting order — eight of nine starters reached base — and a gritty performance from starting pitcher Jason Hammel.
“It tells the tale of this team,” said Hammel, who improved his record to 5-1. “We’re going to grind it out. We’re going to battle. It’s nice to be a part of because all of our hard work that went into it so far has already come to fruition this early in the season.
“We’ve got to keep it going though,” he added. “It’s early. It’s only a month in. We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s really nice to come out here and play well and continue to win those close ball games like we were last year.”
Sunday’s win was the Orioles’ 12th road victory of the season, the second most in the majors behind the St. Louis Cardinals (13).
Hammel overcame a three-run, 39-pitch first inning — a frame that included a controversial call — to give the Orioles six strong innings.
Before the Angels rallied for three runs, Mike Trout was called safe stealing second base, but replays showed that Matt Wieters’ throw just beat Trout’s hand to the bag. After that, Hammel allowed three consecutive two-out, run-scoring singles.
Still, Hammel limited the damage, stranding the bases loaded in the first and third innings, and despite compiling a high pitch count early, he worked through six innings and won his fourth straight decision.
All four of the Orioles’ hits off Angels starter Jerome Williams were for extra bases, including a two-run homer from third baseman Manny Machado in the fifth that gave the Orioles a 5-4 lead on a high line drive that landed in the Orioles’ bullpen far beyond the left field fence.
The blast was Machado’s fifth homer of the season and his third in his last five games. He’s hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games, hitting .367 (22-for-60) with 12 runs, three homers and 12 RBIs in that span.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy also homered off Williams, hitting a two-run shot off in the fourth that tied the game at three. It was Hardy’s second homer in as many games.
The Orioles entered the day just 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position the two previous nights combined, but were 6-for-13 on Sunday.
Leading 5-4, first baseman Chris Davis — back in the lineup for the first time since leaving Friday’s game with a right knee injury — hit a clutch two-out single to give the Orioles a two-run cushion. And second baseman Ryan Flaherty delivered a key two-run single later in the inning. Flaherty went into that at-bat with just four hits in 31 at-bats on the road trip.
“This is a great hitting team,” Machado said. “We’re all clutch. “No matter what the situation is, we come up with something big, whether it’s laying down a bunt or getting the runners over. … [We do] little things like that that people don’t notice. That’s something that we all do on this team.”
Despite falling behind early, Hammel had faith that his team could give him run support if he kept them in the game against the Angels (11-20), who equaled their worst start in franchise history through 31 games.
“Three or four years ago, [Hammel] may not have been able to get through that [first inning],” Showalter said. “That was a mental challenge. We got down 3-1 and he gave us some zeros after that.”
With the tying run on second with two outs in the sixth, Hammel ended the inning by striking out Trout looking with a nasty curveball on his 107th and final pitch of the afternoon. He allowed four runs on nine hits with five strikeouts and three walks.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you grind it out with a good-hitting ballclub, you’re going to have the chance to come out with a W,” said Hammel, who earned his first career win over the Angels in his fifth career appearance (fourth start) against them. “That’s what these guys do for me.”
The Orioles bullpen closed out the club’s 107th straight win when leading after seven innings of work. Left-hander Brian Matusz struck out Josh Hamilton to open the seventh and Pedro Strop overcame a walk to the first batter he faced that inning and a balk to hold the Angels scoreless.
Darren O’Day came in for Troy Patton with runners at second and third with two outs in the eighth and induced Trout into a weak nubber to the right of the mound that Davis fielded and tossed to O’Day covering at first just in time to get the speedy Trout.
O’Day, who earned his first save of the season, allowed a leadoff double to Josh Hamilton in the ninth, but retired the next three Angels batters to close out the game and get the Orioles on their cross-country flight back to Baltimore that wasn’t expected to arrive until 3 a.m. local time Monday morning.
But behind the blood-shot eyes will be a sense of satisfaction from playing well out west.
“It’s huge for us,” Machado said. “To come out with a winning record [on the road trip] just makes it that much easier to go home and get the next series going. It just helps us out. We played great defense. We were hitting with runners in scoring position. Our pitching did very well this whole road trip. That definitely does help us.”