BALTIMORE — A week ago, hoping that the Orioles would make the playoffs seemed like a long shot. Now, the chances of it happening look more promising.
At this time last week, the Orioles sat three games below .500 and 3.5 games back in the American League Wild Card standings. Now, Baltimore’s record is three games above .500, and only one game separates the Orioles (68-65) from overtaking the Twins (68-63) for that second Wild Card spot. The Yankees (70-61) aren’t too far ahead of the O’s grasp, either.
The winning ways all started with a 12-inning walk-off win last Wednesday against Oakland. Then it continued over the weekend when the Birds went into Fenway Park and handed the first-place Red Sox (75-57) three straight losses. Coming into the homestead, the Orioles faced a tough task against a Seattle Mariners team that grasped a half-game lead over Baltimore in the Wild Card race. Now, no “in the hunt” team stands above the Orioles, and the Mariners (66-68) find themselves where the Orioles sat just a short time ago: three and a half games back.
This series featured two one-run victories by the Orioles, who now own a 17-15 record in such games this season. The other became a one-hit shutout by Dylan Bundy, who dazzled in his 25th start of the season.
In Monday’s 7-6 win, the Orioles led 3-1 in the fourth inning, but Ben Gamel’s three-run bomb to center field turned the momentum to Seattle. However, the Orioles answered in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single by Craig Gentry. Tim Beckham also got hit by a pitch that scored Chris Davis.
An inning later, Adam Jones launched a solo shot to center field to extend Baltimore’s lead to two. Jones’s 25th long ball of the season set two historic marks – the 250th of his career, and the 136th home run of his at Camden Yards, more than anyone ever.
Unfortunately, the back-and-forth continued in the sixth inning when Gamel hit an RBI that scored two runs – giving Gamel five RBI on the day. Even though the hit came off reliever Mychal Givens, all six runs got charged to starting pitcher Chris Tillman. Tillman went 5.1 innings, allowing three hits, four walks, and a strikeout. Seattle hit more home runs off Tillman (2) than they fanned at the plate.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Davis sliced a sharp double to right field off Emilio Pagan. Trey Mancini scored on the play, giving the Orioles all they needed to tame the Seattle offense.
Darren O’Day and Zach Britton finished the Mariners off over the final two innings, combining for three strikeouts. The save was Britton’s 12th of 2017.
The road to victory on Tuesday was plain and simple for the Orioles. Bundy pitched a gem in game two, tossing a complete game in which the Mariners only mustered one hit. In 116 pitches, Bundy threw 85 strikes, notching 12 strikeouts and two walks.
Before the month of August began, Bundy never racked up double digit strikeouts in a big league start. He has now done that three times in his last four starts.
With Bundy’s dominance, all the Orioles needed to do on Tuesday was score a run. They ended up scoring four separate times, all on home runs with two coming from Manny Machado. Wellington Castillo and Jonathan Schoop hit the others.
Wednesday afternoon’s game three finale was a lot like Monday’s contest; back and forth with the Orioles coming out on top. The Orioles struck first in the second inning off a Mancini solo home run and a double by Castillo. However, things got out-of-hand shortly after.
In his last three starts, Ubaldo Jimenez allowed at least five runs. He has not pitched out of the sixth inning in any of his August starts. Jimenez struggled again on Wednesday. He allowed six runs, all in the third inning. Taylor Mother and Gamel got on base via single, and Yonder Alonso walked. Nelson Cruz then hit a two-RBI single, and Mitch Haniger smacked a two-run double to left field. That gave Seattle a 4-2 edge, and Buck Showalter pulled Jimenez from the game.
The Mariners scored two more runs in the inning with a two-run single by Mike Zunino. Even though Zunino hit his ball off Miguel Castro, the runs got charged to Jimenez. Castro went on to pitch 3.1 scoreless innings, striking out one.
The fun did not last long for Seattle. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Baltimore scored three runs off homers by Castillo (who went 4-for-4 in the game) and Gentry. An inning later, Schoop homered, and Machado recorded a sacrifice fly to give Baltimore a 7-6 lead.
Just like in Monday’s game, the Mariners refused to go down without a fight. In the eighth inning, Haniger gave himself another RBI on the afternoon with a home run off Brad Brach. However, the Orioles did not panic. In the bottom of the inning, Schoop answered with an RBI single that scored Caleb Joseph. Machado, who the Mariners intentionally walked before Schoop’s at-bat, also tried to score but was thrown out on the play.
Following Schoop’s go-ahead RBI, Britton picked up his 13th save, allowing a hit with a strikeout.
“You come through the motion of winning three games at Fenway, and come back home and there another challenge of a team you are trying to catch ahead of you,” Manager Buck Showalter said after Wednesday’s game. “It’s that time of year, and you can start to see the finish line a little bit now.”
Up next: The Orioles remain at home for a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays (61-71) who are in last place in the AL East.
Image Credit: Camden Chat