Orioles ride Hammel, huge third to romp

Orioles ride Hammel, huge third to romp

Orioles ride Hammel, huge third to romp
BOSTON -- The Orioles' pitching -- a near-daily revolving door of solid starts preceding the best bullpen ERA in baseball -- has never been in question, as surprising as that may be for an organization buried by its lack of arms in recent seasons.

And judging from Saturday's game -- an 8-2 onslaught against the Boston Red Sox -- Baltimore's offense, which has averaged 6.5 runs in its last four games, isn't much of an issue either. In fact, by the time the second-place Orioles had put the finishing touches on their seventh series win and 10th victory in their last 12 games, there was really only one query: What exactly is going on here?

After 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Orioles asserted all spring that they were tired of being the American League East's doormat. And so far, they've taken that talk and translated it onto the field, where a plucky O's club -- fresh off a series win at the new Yankee Stadium -- isn't just holding its own in the division, but barreling forward.

"We've still got a long way to go, but it's not changed our mentality," starter Jason Hammel said of an Orioles club that is off to its best start in seven seasons. "We know what we can do, and we're having fun. We're not putting too much pressure on ourselves. ... It's a good group of guys in there, and we're pushing for each other."

And pushing opponents around in the process. Saturday's win -- highlighted by a seven-run third-inning outburst and carried by another superb start by Hammel -- marked the Orioles' fifth win in their last six games in Boston, after dropping the previous six. The O's have won eight of their last 11 games overall against the Red Sox and are 18-9 on the season, good enough for second place in the AL East.

"We don't care who it is," first baseman Chris Davis said. "When it's someone in your division, you want to win those games, but we want to win every game we go out there and play, whether it's the Yankees, the Red Sox or the Rays, a team in the West, a team in the Central. Our goal is to go out there and play our best every day. We feel like we have a good team. We feel like we can compete with anybody, and we want to continue to prove that."

Hammel continued his fine form this season, as the 29-year-old -- making his first start in Boston since 2006 as a member of the Rays -- held the Red Sox to two runs over 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander, who has been the Orioles' most consistent starter, struck out eight and allowed just four hits in his season-high 115-pitch outing, taking a shutout into the seventh.

"He was aggressive, especially once he got that lead," Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said of Hammel, who retired 15 of 16 at one point. "When a guy's got a 93-mile-an-hour sinker and can get it up to 95, 96 and is throwing his pitches on the corners, it can get tough when you're trying to catch up."

Hammel's outing marked the Orioles' 10th quality start in 12 games, with the rotation having allowed one earned run or fewer in seven of those.

"You can't say enough about how Jason Hammel battled -- again," Davis said of the right-hander, who picked up his first career victory in 10 games, four starts, against the Red Sox. "He pitched his butt off and kept us in there for the win."

Red Sox starter Aaron Cook suffered a nasty gash on his left leg after Davis' spikes caught him as he slid home safely on a passed ball in the second inning, and while he remained in the game after briefly retreating to the clubhouse for treatment, he never recovered.

"I'd seen his knee, and that was disgusting, but when he came back out there, we're not going to feel sorry for the man," said Adam Jones, who started the third-inning scoring with a two-out, two-run homer. "It [stinks] that his knee was hurt and all that, but we had a job to do, and we did it."

Cook's misfortune provided the Orioles' windfall as the offense went on to compile a season-high seven runs in a single inning. Matt Wieters followed Jones with a double, and Davis and Wilson Betemit delivered a pair of singles to chase Cook from the game for good. Mark Reynolds, fresh off his first homer of the season Friday night, delivered the fatal blow, blasting reliever Clayton Mortensen's sixth pitch over the Green Monster for a three-run shot.

"We had a big inning, and we didn't look back from that," Jones said. "We picked up each other. I think the big blow was Reynolds' three-run home run, that really made everybody in Fenway Park just sink, because we went up 8-0.

It's not necessarily the middle of the lineup, it's the whole lineup. We're just counting on everybody from top to bottom ... we feel confident that anybody can do it."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who has downplayed the team's hot start, continued to take a cautious approach, reminding reporters of the 162-game grind.

"This is a marathon," Showalter said. "We've got way too many bridges to cross. We've got a good start to May after doing some things well in April. There are some things we need to do better if we are going to continue to play the baseball we want to play. I'll think we are all dwelling on the 'one game, one day [approach]'. I know it's cliché-ish, but if we stay in that mentality, we will be OK."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.