Hunter makes Jones' HR stand up in win over Twins

Hunter makes Jones' HR stand up in victory

Hunter makes Jones' HR stand up in win over Twins
MINNEAPOLIS -- Orioles starter Tommy Hunter, who showcased his defensive prowess on Wednesday night, quipped that catching Ben Revere's sharp grounder was more of a gift than his own quick skills.

"Merry Christmas," Hunter said of the snag, which started a key third-inning double play.

It certainly felt like a holiday in the Orioles clubhouse. Buoyed by Hunter's 7 1/3 strong innings, Baltimore got a big homer from residential Mr. Clutch, Adam Jones, to solidify a sorely-needed 2-1 win over the Twins.

"We needed this win badly, just for the psyche," Jones said of a struggling club that had lost 17 of its last 24 games coming in. "I'm not saying, if we didn't get this win, we're not going to be here later. We just needed this win because we know we can play good baseball and we haven't been. It's a testament to always grinding.

"We're men who are going to give it their all. There's failing in this game, but you've got to learn how to handle it."

The victory, in front of 33,195 at Target Field, put the Orioles back into second place in the American League East, a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay. And while manager Buck Showalter has preached a singular "one game at a time" focus, there was an overwhelming sense in the Orioles clubhouse -- from the blaring post-game music to jovial antics -- that Wednesday's win was key in getting their mojo back.

"The last couple games we've been on a little bit of a spiral," said closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his 27th save in 29 opportunities. "But hopefully that kind of [got] us in the right direction to finish out this series. We talk about momentum a lot in this game, and that's key in this game."

The 26-year-old Hunter turned in the team's longest outing since Chris Tillman on July 4, helping take the pressure off an overworked bullpen that had pitched 26 2/3 innings in the previous five games.

"Hopefully we just got over the top of the hill and we are going to be on that downward slope," said Hunter, who got a personal lift by turning in his best start since April. "It's got to get better at some point, and tonight we put it together."

Recalled from Triple-A Norfolk prior to the game, Hunter attacked the strike zone early and often and was able to limit his Achilles' heel -- giving up home runs -- by allowing just one solo shot, to Josh Willingham in the fourth.

"It's huge," first baseman Mark Reynolds said of Hunter's effort, which gave the O's their first win in four games. "To come back up here and do that, hold them to one run, when it seemed like they got a hit whenever they wanted to in the first two games. He threw a great game for us, much needed."

Hunter made a pair of excellent defensive plays to boot, starting an inning-ending double play that stranded two runners in the third and nabbing Revere with an impressive glove flip in the sixth. With one out, Revere laid down a bunt that Hunter fielded and shuffled to Reynolds while on the run, diving forward with a superb effort to record the out.

Reynolds had a gem of his own in the ninth-inning, lunging for Brian Dozier's bunt and making the grab, helping Johnson get out of the frame unscathed.

"[It was] about as graceful as Tommy's play," Reynolds said. "Both pretty big guys rolling around out there. And we both had a chance to catch it."

The team's defense -- which has been a sore spot all season -- held firm for Hunter, making all the plays to allow Jones' first-inning homer to stand up. Of Jones' 22 home runs this season, 14 have given the Orioles the lead or tied the game, and Wednesday's held up as the decisive blow against starter Francisco Liriano, who struck out 10 and exited after six innings.

"I got pretty good sink on that pitch right there," Liriano said of the inside fastball Jones sent out. "It wasn't a bad pitch at all. He put a good swing on it."

Clinging to a one-run lead, Hunter -- who became the first Oriole starter in eight games to pitch more than six innings -- ran into some trouble in the seventh. Willingham opened with a single and, one out later, Hunter hit Trevor Plouffe in the right arm to put runners on first and second.

But Hunter retired Dozier on a deep fly ball to center field and got pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit to hit a shallow fly to escape the threat. Hunter exited the 106-pitch outing after retiring No. 9 batter Jamey Carroll to start the eighth and -- after reliever Troy Patton pitched out of some trouble -- Johnson put the finishing touches on the Orioles' 47th win this season.

Hunter, who added some stability to a rotation in flux, also helped keep a carousel of roster moves on hold for at least one night.

"You limit as many bullets as you can out of the guys [in the bullpen] and play a catch-up game with the way things have gone lately," Johnson said. "It kind of rights the ship. It gets guys back in their slots, and we can move on from there."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for 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.