Orioles ride a big third inning to a third straight win

CLEVELAND — The Orioles have been victims of the big inning recently, when everything seemingly collapses around the starting pitcher.

On Friday, the Orioles finally saw it from a different vantage point.

They pounded the Cleveland Indians, 10-2, Friday night for their second most lopsided victory of the season. It included a six-run third against veteran right-hander Derek Lowe — the most runs the Orioles have scored since getting seven in an inning May 5 against Boston.

“It's rare that we get four, five, six runs an inning. But when you get it, it puts the team in a really good position,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “The thing is we didn't let up. We went out the next couple innings and we still swung the bats. We swung the bats the whole game.”

The Orioles (49-44) have won three straight for the first time since mid-June, when they captured five in a row against the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates. They remain in second place in the American League East and just a half game behind the Detroit Tigers for the second American League wild-card spot.

Friday's win was the Orioles' largest margin of victory since beating the Oakland A's, 10-1, on April 28. The Indians (47-46) have lost five of seven after winning the first game of the second half.

After dropping their first two in Minnesota this week, including giving up 19 runs in one game and blowing a three-run lead in another, the Orioles strung together two one-run victories followed by Friday's laugher.

“You travel to the next city and you put good and bad behind you. It's part of the maturity of a team,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “When you have a situation that doesn't work out, sometimes that happens. It's very hard to do what these guys are asked to do every night and [have] the ability to turn the page and keep grinding through all the challenges you face. Good game for us.”

Most important, it was a great third inning for the Orioles, who scored six runs in their previous two games. Mark Reynolds had a bases-loaded, two-run double, rookie Ryan Flaherty blasted a three-run homer and Matt Wieters added an RBI ground out, all against Lowe (8-8). The inning could have been worse for the Indians, but left fielder Johnny Damon made a sensational dive into the stands to catch a foul ball.

In three-plus innings, Lowe matched a career high by yielding nine earned runs. The most significant run came in the fourth when designated hitter Jim Thome launched a Lowe pitch 418 feet to right. It was his first home run as an Oriole and sixth this season.

It also was his 610th as a big leaguer, breaking a tie with former Oriole Sammy Sosa and giving Thome sole possession of seventh place on the all-time home run list. Thome, who spent much of his career with the Indians, received a warm welcome from the announced 33,954 when he was introduced. There wasn't as much applause when he went deep.

“I've played a lot of games here, so it felt good,” said Thome, who exchanged a bat and two signed baseballs to recapture the souvenir. “From playing here, I pretty much knew it was out.”

Showalter was a little more effusive about Thome and the historic blast.

“There's nothing Jimmy doesn't do that I don't say, ‘Man, you're pretty lucky to watch this,'” Showalter said. “I am honored to have him pass my way. They don't come like him too often.”

Thome had three of his team's 11 hits in an offensive onslaught that actually started poorly. The Orioles scored once in the first on a wild pitch by Lowe that was set up by a liner that Damon failed to catch. In the second, they put runners on second and third with no outs and failed to score. But the 39-year-old Lowe couldn't build on that in his second shortest outing of 2012.

His counterpart, Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (2-1), was able to turn around a shaky beginning and, once handed a six-run lead, he delivered a quality performance.

“It makes it a lot easier to pitch when we are ahead,” said Gonzalez, who faced a lineup of all lefties and switch-hitters. “And we scored six runs in the third inning and that was big. Just gives me more confidence.”

Gonzalez, making the third start of his major league career, yielded a solo homer to Asdrubal Cabrera on his sixth pitch. He then served up a well-struck double, walked a batter and hit another in the first, but he wiggled out of the 25-pitch inning by getting Damon to ground out.

Gonzalez remained in charge until giving up a two-out homer to No. 9 hitter Jack Hannahan in the seventh. Gonzalez lasted 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks. He struck out five and threw a career-high 114 pitches.

It was his second quality start and the Orioles' third straight. The team hadn't had three consecutive quality starts since May 25-27. It's been an impressive run for Gonzalez, who spent parts of six seasons in the minors and also missed two full years of affiliated ball. He was signed as a minor league free agent in March.

“When you come from where Miguel has come from to get on the page, he's not going to take anything for granted,” Showalter said. “And he's going to take advantage of every opportunity and that was more of it than anything.”

Reliever Matt Lindstrom picked up the last out in the seventh but was forced to leave with two outs in the eighth when Damon hit a liner just above and to the side of Lindstrom's left knee.

“Johnny gave me a souvenir. Got the laces tattooed on the inside of my knee,” Lindstrom quipped. “I'm fine. They evaluated me in the training room. And just got to ice it and keep some pressure on it to keep the swelling down. So I'm walking around fine.”

Suddenly, after losing four of their first five in the second half, the Orioles seem to be OK again, too.

“We've won three in a row. Now [Saturday] is key,” Thome said. “This was a good win, a good way to start here.”

dan.connolly@baltsun.com
twitter.com/danconnollysun

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