Thome helps O's continue extra-inning prowess

Thome helps O's continue extra-inning prowess

Thome helps O's continue extra-inning prowess
BOSTON -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter, citing college basketball's Sweet 16, joked after Friday's win that his club was down to the dirty dozen. As Baltimore continues to tread into recently uncharted territory, a group of what closer Jim Johnson glibly referred to as "grinders" show no signs of slowing down.

If anything, the Orioles -- who have relied on different players all season -- are getting better.

Already the king of extra-inning wins, Baltimore extended its streak to a franchise-record 16 consecutive bonus-frame wins with Jim Thome's ground-rule RBI double sealing the deal in a 9-6, 12-inning win over the Red Sox on Saturday. The marathon contest, the O's third game of at least 11 innings in their last four, gave them a season-high six-game winning streak and marked their ninth win in their last 10 games at Fenway Park. It also helped them keep pace in the American League East race, as the New York Yankees beat the A's to maintain a one-game lead over Baltimore.

So, how exactly are the Orioles, who have the most extra-inning wins in a season since the 1999 Braves (17), this good when the pressure is on?

"If I knew that, I'd put it in a bottle and sell it on the street corners," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of an Orioles club that is one win shy of tying the 1949 Indians for consecutive extra-inning victories.

"The one thing I will say is, there's not some sense of panic or that finality -- especially on the road," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of his club, which has 11 extra-inning wins away from Camden Yards. "When you don't score in the top of your inning, the game could end. But we had some people get some big outs.

And some big hits, chief among them from the veteran Thome, who to that point hadn't hit a ball out of the infield and was 0-for-5 in his first game back since July 27.

"First and foremost, Thome has been in this situation," said center fielder Adam Jones, who opened the frame with a double off closer Alfredo Aceves and scored the decisive run. "The situation is not new to him. I mean, he's missed time -- but he stepped in that box and he always rises to the occasion."

Thome sent Aceves' pitch into deep right field, one-hopping the fence to break a 6-6 tie and mark his 15th career go-ahead RBI in extra innings. Endy Chavez and Manny Machado added to the lead with a pair of RBI singles.

"You want to be a part of what they're doing, and that's why you work hard," said Thome, who rehabbed from a herniated disk in his neck. "You don't know on rehab how the process is going to go, so being here and being in this atmosphere, you enjoy every minute of it, no doubt."

The Orioles improved to 68-0 when leading after seven innings, with stellar efforts from relievers Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and Luis Ayala that helped fend off the Red Sox after Boston tied the game with an eighth-inning run off struggling setup man Pedro Strop. Closer Jim Johnson extended his Major League lead in saves by notching his No. 47.

"Tommy, if that gun's right, he may have found a home," Showalter said of Hunter, who touched triple digits with his fastball according to the readings at Fenway Park in a 1-2-3 11th.

Ayala, on for his second inning, exited after two outs in the 10th, with Mike Aviles -- who singled -- on first base and Matusz facing Daniel Nava. Matusz walked Nava on five pitches, but struck out Scott Podsednik to keep the game tied.

Strop helped force the game into extras, the Orioles' 18th trip to additional frames this season, after surrendering a pair of doubles to Boston's Nos. 8 and 9 hitters -- Nava and Podsednik. After posting a 1.20 ERA in his first 51 outings, Strop has a 7.50 ERA in his last 16 games.

"I don't like to make excuses, but I felt pretty good," Strop said. "I'm just going to keep working as hard as I can to get back to the point where I'm lights-out again.

"It's definitely a step forward. I feel like me."

The O's looked right at home in extending their league lead in road wins to 45, with wins in nine of their last 11 road series against the AL East.

"I'm tired of playing extra-inning games, to be honest with you," Jones, who also homered, said with a grin. "but, we're not quitting until that last out is made. So, if we need 13, 14, 15, up to 18 innings to do the job, I guess that's what we have to do."

The Orioles scored five runs against Red Sox starter Aaron Cook, chasing him from the game after Machado's double off the Green Monster put runners on second and third. That prompted Valentine to go with reliever Rich Hill. Maine native Ryan Flaherty made him pay with just one pitch, sending a triple into the right-center-field gap to score a pair of runs and give the O's the lead back. Flaherty, playing in place of Robert Andino -- who was hit in the helmet by a pitch on Friday night -- entered Saturday with just two at-bats since August 25, but shook off the rust to reach base three times.

Orioles starter Randy Wolf, making his second start since joining Baltimore, outpitched Cook and held Boston to three runs over five innings. Wolf -- who started as a member of the team's bullpen -- allowed a first-inning run and gave up Danny Valencia's first homer as a member of the Red Sox, a two-run shot in the fourth, which tied the game at three.

The Red Sox cut a three-run lead down to one, scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Jake Arrieta, who came on following Wolf. After Podsednik's leadoff double, Pedro Ciriaco walked and Dustin Pedroia singled on a ball that Flaherty and shortstop J.J. Hardy got crossed up on -- with both going for the ball right by the second-base bag. Boston scored on a pair of ground balls by Cody Ross and Ryan Lavarnway to close the deficit to a run.

"I think in baseball, I don't want to say you have to have a little luck, but you have to have a little mojo on your side," Thome said of an Orioles club that has secured its first season series win over the Red Sox since 2005. "You have to be talented. Our bullpen has done a tremendous job, and so have our starters. You can't forget the offense, either. When you play extra innings, you manufacture runs. That's one thing we've done really well."

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.