OAKLAND, Calif. – The Orioles exorcised plenty of their demons in 2012 when they finally achieved a winning record and a playoff berth for the first time in 15 years.
But not every lingering nightmare can be erased in one season — not after years of continual ineptitude.
With a 7-3 victory Saturday afternoon against the Oakland Athletics, the Orioles can cross one more thing off their “We're back” bucket list.
For the first time since 2007, the Orioles (15-9) have won a series at the O.co Coliseum. Including a victory last September, the Orioles have won four straight here for the first time since 1998. They had won just three of their past 19 games in Oakland before arriving in California on Wednesday night.
The Orioles are one win away from their first four-game sweep at Oakland in 26 years — the last one coming in May 1987.
“We have struggled here. If you look at our record here, it is not very good,” said right fielder Nick Markakis, whose two-run homer paced a key, four-run fourth. “So it's a good way to start a road trip. Win the first three and win the series, that's our goal from the start.”
Using homers by Markakis, Adam Jones and Nate McLouth, the Orioles again took advantage of a reeling A's team (13-12) that has dropped eight of its last nine games.
Even an announced crowd of 31,292 that was on hand to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Oakland's 1973 World Series team couldn't shake the A's from their skid. At least they will get star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (left hand strain) back from the disabled list Sunday.
Conversely, the Orioles will be putting one of their own on the 15-day DL.
Reserve catcher Taylor Teagarden took a foul tip off his left thumb in the sixth inning Saturday and immediately left the game. He initially thought it was broken, but X-rays showed a dislocation. He said he expects to be out three to four weeks.
Matt Wieters, who had been the designated hitter Saturday, had to quickly don the catcher's gear and get behind the plate in the sixth.
Consequently, the Orioles lost the DH, and in the top of the seventh right-hander Chris Tillman — who already had thrown 103 pitches and wasn't returning to the mound in the bottom of the inning — went to the plate to bat. Because there were two outs and no one on in a two-run game, manager Buck Showalter didn't want to waste a pinch-hitter.
“We didn't want to burn somebody with two outs. You normally start with a five-man bench and we're down to four and one is the extra catcher. So now you are down to really two extra players,” Showalter said. “You weigh the advantages you are really going to gain versus what you are going to put yourself at risk for.”
Tillman, who had batted once before in his big league career — a groundout at San Francisco in 2010 — struck out by watching three straight pitches.
“I was surprised. I wasn't really expecting to get an at-bat today,” Tillman deadpanned. “But we have to save our hitters for bigger situations.”
Tillman (1-1) was much more effective on the mound.
He labored early, allowing a run in the second and another in the third, both on RBIs by Josh Donaldson, who matched a career high with four hits in the game. Tillman had thrown 66 pitches through three innings and appeared to be headed for a quick exit after giving up a leadoff double in the fourth.
He then retired six straight A's — and did so efficiently. He threw just 11 pitches in the fourth and 11 in the fifth.
“I thought the fourth and fifth really set him up to set up our bullpen,” Showalter said. “From there we have a pretty good shot. When he went back out there and pitched the fourth, fifth and sixth like he did, it set up a lot of good things for us.”
In his six innings, Tillman permitted two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out a season-high seven batters. It was his second consecutive quality start after not posting one in his first three outings of 2013. The Orioles have posted three consecutive quality starts and, perhaps not coincidentally, have won three straight for the first time this season.
“I was able to get into a little bit of a rhythm late in the game,” Tillman said. “Teagarden did a great job of getting me back on track.”
The Orioles gave Tillman the lead in the fourth.
Manny Machado drew a leadoff walk from A.J. Griffin (2-2), and Markakis followed with his third homer of the season, tying the game at 2-2. Two pitches later, Jones hit a rocket to deep center for his fourth homer. The Orioles added a fourth run in the inning on a RBI single by J.J. Hardy that scored Chris Davis — who was running on the pitch — from first.
The Orioles hadn't had back-to-back home runs since Mark Reynolds and Lew Ford did it against the New York Yankees in September.
McLouth hit his first homer of the season in the eighth against reliever Jerry Blevins. McLouth, who had three hits and has reached base in 18 of his last 31 plate appearances, also had a RBI single in the ninth. He is hitting .458 in his last eight games.
“Nate is in a good place right now,” Showalter said. “We want to keep him there by continuing to use him the way we are using him.”
Orioles reliever Pedro Strop made things interesting in the ninth by hitting a batter and walking another, but closer Jim Johnson bailed him out with a fly out and double play to secure his 10th save of the season.
The Orioles have now won 103 consecutive games when leading at the completion on seven innings.
But the real eyebrow-raiser will be if they can sweep the A's here Sunday.
“It's another challenge for us regardless of what happened the first three games. It's another day game tomorrow and in a tough place to play,” Showalter said. “I think one of the keys to being able to have a good future