Welcome to life in the American League East -- or at least, in April -- where statistics are inflated and every game seems to take on paramount importance, almost in spite of the 162-game grind it was intended to be. The Orioles, who have had plenty of question marks in their rotation and lineup in the opening month, did their best to silence them Thursday night in an 11-4 come-from-behind, series-clinching victory over the Blue Jays.
"I hope it's our level," Showalter said with a grin after his club reached the 10-run mark in consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 14-15, 2008. "That's probably asking a little too much. But this ballpark, you are going to have to score some runs. They are good. You better come in here and not expect your pitcher to be perfect. It's hard to do. In the American League East and this ballpark."
For the second consecutive game the O's rallied, this time scoring a combined nine runs in the seventh and eighth innings and using an uplifting start from Bud Norris to ensure both a winning road trip (4-3) and a winning overall record (11-10) as they head back to Baltimore.
Suddenly, things look a lot better for the Orioles -- tied for second in the division -- following their first winning road trip since last July 19-25.
"Well a couple nights ago you guys were asking, 'Can this lineup hit?'" said Adam Jones, part of a lineup that saw batters two through five go 8-for-19 with 10 RBIs on Thursday night. "Pick your question. We grind. It's going to be fun. We got some guys that feed off the guys in front of us. We are going to be fine. There are some tough pitchers in baseball that are going to make it tough on us, but we are going to hit. That's how our lineup is designed. The last couple nights, really this road trip, we've swung the bats really well."
Orioles slugger Chris Davis, fresh off his second homer in Wednesday's comeback win, singled twice against the shift and drove in three runs while red-hot Nelson Cruz continued his torrid opening month. Cruz, who homered twice and drove in five on Wednesday, delivered a two-run single in the eighth to mark his seventh consecutive game with an RBI, increasing his team lead to an impressive 23. The Orioles amassed 14 hits, also receiving multi-RBI games from Jones (three) and Matt Wieters (two).
Trailing, 3-2, the Orioles started their rally in the seventh with David Lough's one-out double off Blue Jays reliever Neil Wagner, with Toronto manager John Gibbons calling on Brett Cecil after that. Nick Markakis walked, and Cecil intentionally walked Cruz to load the bases. Davis made him pay, singling into left on an 0-2 pitch that scored two to give their Orioles their first lead.
"I think any guy in here wants to be in that position to try to drive in some runs," Davis said of following an intentional walk. "That's the beauty of the competition. Nelson is swinging the bat really well, and with Jonesy behind me and a lefty on the mound I know they're going to go after me. I accept the challenge. I was glad I was able to rise to it tonight."
Jones doubled in Cruz, and Gibbons summoned Esmil Rogers to replace Cecil. But it was to no avail, as Wieters singled -- sending his bat flying -- to drive in two more runs and push the lead to 7-3.
"I just tried to get loose and locate my pitches as best as I can," said Cecil, who sent the Orioles into fits earlier in the series. "Not really focused on the break of the curve ball. It's usually my best pitch, but like I said, things aren't going to go perfect every time out."
The O's piled on, scoring four runs off Rogers in the following frame. After Jonathan Schoop, who homered in his fifth-inning at-bat, was hit by a pitch, Lough and Markakis singled to load the bases. Cruz sent a ball into left field for a two-RBI base hit, and, one out later, Jones drove in two more with a single to center field.
"It's not necessarily about the home runs," Jones said. "Getting hits with runners in scoring position. Getting that big double. That's the pass-the-baton mentality we are trying to implement here."
Norris, who owns both of the Orioles' starts of six or more innings over the past eight games, surrendered two homers but never let the game get out of hand. The righty allowed both long balls, to Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, in the second inning and settled in from there, allowing just one hit the rest of his night as he recorded his first win in three starts.
After striking out Juan Francisco for the second out of the fourth, Norris grabbed his right hamstring in apparent pain, prompting Showalter and head athletic trainer Richie Bancells to come out to the mound. Norris threw a few warmup pitches and stayed in the game, retiring the next six straight before hitting Edwin Encarnacion with a pitch.
"Kind of tweaked it, but it wasn't really that big of a deal," Norris said. "Just stretched it in between innings, and I was OK from there."
Norris got Navarro to fly out to end the sixth, and lefty Zach Britton pitched 1 2/3 innings before handing the ball off to Josh Stinson, who sealed the win for Norris.
"It's huge," Wieters said of the ability to make in-game adjustments to erase a deficit. "We wouldn't like to give up the big inning, but when you give it up being able to answer and put up zeros is huge. In this game, when you give up a big inning, you better put up some zeros to give your team a chance to come back and get some runs. And [we] did that both nights."