Hardy delivers as O's stay tough on Royals

Hardy delivers as O's stay tough on Royals

Hardy delivers as O's stay tough on Royals
KANSAS CITY -- J.J. Hardy always enjoys catching up with Ned Yost, his former manager in Milwaukee. But after what Hardy did to Yost's current team over a two-day span, the Royals skipper may not want to see Hardy for awhile.

Hardy came through in the clutch once more on Thursday with a two-strike, two-run single that snapped a seventh-inning tie and boosted the Orioles to a 5-3 victory and a sweep of the two-game series at Kauffman Stadium.

On Wednesday, Hardy had a game-tying RBI single with two out in the ninth and the Orioles went on to a 4-3 win in 15 innings.

With the game on the line, there's nobody the Orioles would rather see at the plate than Hardy these days. Something clicked for the shortstop in the 17-inning marathon at Boston on May 6, and Hardy has been having fun at the plate ever since.

"I've felt like a totally different hitter up there," Hardy said. "I don't know if I'm seeing the ball better, but my swing definitely feels better. I'm just more relaxed and feel more confident."

The Orioles (25-14) have won seven straight road games -- marking their longest road streak since winning 10 in a row from Aug. 29 to Sept. 24 in 1999.

On Thursday, the O's had to overcome an early 3-0 deficit. Left-hander Brian Matusz steadied himself after a rocky third inning and the offense went to work, starting with Adam Jones' two-run homer in the fourth.

Baltimore managed to tie the game in the seventh, thanks largely to a Jarrod Dyson error in center field, and had the bases loaded with two out, when Hardy came through with the game-winning hit off reliever Aaron Crow.

The Kansas City right-hander got ahead in the count before Hardy fought off an inside pitch, resulting in a broken-bat single to right that pushed Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I was in battle zone," Hardy said. "He blew me up inside with that sinker. Fortunately for me, the ball got through."

The Orioles, who are 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 24, 2005, are feeling extremely confident these days. Solid bullpen work and late-inning offense can do wonders for a team's mindset, particularly on the road.

"We feel like we have a lineup that can score runs," Hardy said. "Winning is contagious and everybody has been getting the job done."

The Orioles got it done in the seventh, even though the rally was nearly short-circuited by a botched bunt play. With Chris Davis at third and one out, Ryan Flaherty bunted right back to the mound with Davis holding. Flaherty was an easy out at first.

"We missed a sign," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

That mistake could have been a rally-killer, but Luis Exposito coaxed a walk, as did Xavier Avery. That put Hardy right back in the spotlight and he responded again.

"We're just jelling really well," said Matusz, who allowed seven hits and three earned runs over six innings. "We're getting the clutch hits, the starting pitchers are stepping up, and the bullpen is shutting guys down."

The Orioles were able to save Luis Ayala and Pedro Strop in Wednesday's 15-inning game and both relievers delivered a scoreless inning on Thursday. Jim Johnson came on to record his 22nd consecutive save dating to Aug. 14, 2011.

Royals starter Luke Hochever took a 3-2 lead into the seventh, when Wilson Betemit started the inning with a single. Davis lined a clean single to center and Dyson got too close to the ball while charging hard. The ball skipped past him to the wall with Betemit scoring the tying run.

"It was a play that Dyson makes pretty easy, but he kind of got caught in-between," Yost said.

When the Orioles get a break these days, they are making the opposition pay.

"A guy like J.J. should be able to get a broken-bat hit," Showalter said. "As many balls as he hits hard at somebody ... Hardy has been so clutch for us. He's a special player and we're lucky to have him."

Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.