You could pick a number of storylines from a sticky, summer-like Tuesday evening at Camden Yards and really not go wrong.
There was the obvious, made-for-TV clip of Nate McLouth lifting a game-ending homer over the right-field wall in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Orioles a 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees and snap a season-worst six-game losing streak.
There was maligned closer Jim Johnson (2-4) throwing an eight-pitch, perfect 10th inning to pick up the win after blowing three consecutive saves in the last week.
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There was Miguel Gonzalez, who had pitched just once this month because of a deep blister on his right thumb, throwing a gem against a Yankees team that always seems to bring out his best.
And there was reserve outfielder Chris Dickerson getting a start in center field and turning in the first multi-homer game of his big-league career – against the club he had played with for the past two seasons.
Mix it all together, choose what works best, but the bottom line is this: The Orioles (24-21) needed to win Tuesday to stop the bleeding, to reinforce what they have been preaching for the last season and a quarter and to get back into playing good baseball before they fall too far behind.“We really needed this win,” said Dickerson who had three hits including two solo homers against former teammate Phil Hughes. “This team continues to grind, continues to push forward even when the chips are down. We've had some huge comebacks and have come up short, but this was one of those things that can turn it around. Everything's about momentum. Nate came up huge. Those are the things it takes to turn things around.”
The Orioles headed into Tuesday reeling from a six-game losing streak – with all the losses coming at home. The last time the club had dropped more in a row was July 4-15, 2011, when they suffered nine consecutive defeats.Dating back to the start of the 2012 season, the Orioles were 0-3 in extra-inning games against the Yankees and 19-2 in those situations against everyone else. That skid ended too – on one swing from McLouth against lefty reliever Vidal Nuno (1-1).
“It was important just to kinda put that whole [losing] streak behind us,” McLouth said. “And walk-offs are always exciting.”
The Orioles added to Tuesday’s good feelings with news that last year’s top draft pick, right-hander Kevin Gausman, will be promoted in time for Thursday’s start at Toronto, according to multiple industry sources. Gausman, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the organization, was 2-4 with a 3.11 ERA in eight starts at Double-A Bowie.
By then the Orioles hope to have beaten the Yankees (28-17) in Wednesday’s rubber match and moved a little closer to first place.
“Hopefully, this is a start to get us in the right direction,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we’ll play another good game tomorrow and then get a good road trip going.”
Johnson’s clean inning may be one of the more important developments from Tuesday, but he downplayed the outing, stressing instead Gonzalez’s seven strong innings and two more perfect ones from reliever Tommy Hunter.
“It was good to get out there. But nothing that happened today was about me,” Johnson said. “You look at the way Gonzo pitched today. He did a great job. Tommy [Hunter] has been phenomenal for us. And then obviously guys putting good at-bats together. It’s good to see Nate get in there, Chris Dickerson heck of a game, too.”
Gonzalez, who was activated from the disabled list Tuesday, allowed one run in the first on two hits that nearly were outs. Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner lined a ball to left that McLouth chased down but failed to catch – with the ball bouncing of his glove for a double. With two outs, Travis Hafner hit a grounder that diving second baseman Yamaico Navarro couldn’t quite grasp.
Gonzalez retired the next seven straight Yankees before allowing a leadoff double in the fourth to Vernon Wells. Hafner followed with his second RBI single in two at-bats. After that, Gonzalez sent down 12 of his final 13 batters. He walked none, struck out five and threw 92 pitches with no ill effects of the blister.
“That was the difference. That was Miggy. That was the guy who was here for us last year and it was good to see that guy show up today in a lot of ways,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “The blister held up well. … I don't know if we really knew how much it was hindering his ability to throw all his pitches.”
Tuesday was Gonzalez’s longest outing since he allowed just one run in a seven-inning no-decision at Yankee Stadium in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 10. It was no coincidence that Gonzalez was activated – without a rehab start to make sure the blister was fully healed – to face the Yankees. In five starts against the Bronx Bombers, including last year’s playoff game, Gonzalez has posted a 2.41 ERA in 33 2/3 innings.
"I don't know. Sometimes, you feel comfortable with one team,” Gonzalez said of pitching against the Yankees. “Most guys are like that, too. It's just a matter of being confident and doing what you do best.”
Hughes, couldn’t boast the same success against the Orioles. He entered the game with a 5.88 ERA in eight starts this season and a 5.47 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Orioles. But on Tuesday he really made just two mistakes, both to Dickerson, who was getting just his second start this season in center field and eighth start as an Oriole.
In a 10-pitch at-bat in the third, Dickerson homered to right-center to tie the game at 1-1 and extend his hitting streak to seven games. Two innings later, Dickerson planted a Hughes fastball onto the right field flag court to make it 2-2. It was the third home run of the season for Dickerson in just 33 at-bats, and the first multi-homer game of his big league career, which spans parts of six seasons.
“It feels great,” Dickerson said. “As soon as I saw the lineup card I was already fired up, just to get the opportunity to play against them. But to go out and have that result, it was awesome.”
The Orioles hadn’t had a player hit two or more homers in a game since Chris Davis and Manny Machado both did it on Sept. 26, 2012.
They hadn’t had a walk-off since Matt Wieters did it against Tampa Bay on April 18. This one, though, had more significance, even if the Orioles weren’t saying it. Because it came against the Yankees, ended a losing skid and, at the very last, guaranteed the club wouldn’t lose its entire eight-game homestand.
“[Losing] is frustrating. It eats at you. It bothers you because you know there's a lot of people counting on you to make [it] an enjoyable summer,” Showalter said. “It wasn't a whole lot of fun riding home and seeing all the Orioles shirts down the streets going home at night and knowing they had planned their time around our game. That bothers me. But what are you going to do?”firstname.lastname@example.org