O's rally late to claim Battle of the Beltways

Baltimore scores three in 7th, two in 8th to win season series vs. Nats

O's rally late to claim Battle of the Beltways

WASHINGTON -- For six innings on Monday night at Nationals Park, the Orioles went through their familiar routine. Hitters tapped slow ground balls around the infield. Towering fly balls carried without a threat. There was still the occasional home run, but no sustainable offense.

Two pitches into the seventh, J.J. Hardy started a rally. The shortstop ripped a double into the left-field corner. Ryan Flaherty followed with a double to center. Baltimore came alive for three runs in the seventh and two in the eighth to beat the Nationals, 7-3, in the makeup of a July 8 rainout.

"We've been kind of struggling with the bat recently, and one through nine, everybody contributed tonight," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "It was great for the offense to kind of bust out there with the big innings."

Hardy collected four hits and scored twice. Joseph drove in three runs and homered for the second time in three days. In a battle of first-place teams, the O's took three of four in the season series from their rivals down Interstate 95.

With the Blue Jays idle, the Orioles' best offensive performance since Tuesday gave them a four-game lead in the American League East with a trip to Toronto looming.

In its previous four games, Baltimore scored a total of six runs. The O's 14 hits were the most since July 7. For the team with the worst batting average and on-base percentage in the AL since the All-Star break, a seven-run outburst was a rare sight.

"There were a lot of good at-bats, but good at-bats with good results," said Delmon Young, who contributed a go-ahead pinch-hit single in the seventh. "If we hit into double plays or got out, no one would be talking about how we had good at-bats."

Long before the Orioles erupted for their most prolific inning since Tuesday, Joseph got Baltimore on the board with a solo home run. Minutes after Nats catcher Wilson Ramos opened the scoring with a solo home run in the bottom of the second, Joseph answered with a leadoff homer in the top of the third.

During the O's recent drought, Joseph has been one of the few bright spots. The catcher, who added a two-run single in the eighth, is 11-for-his-last-30 and batting .281 in the second half.

This was the reputation that Joseph carried. In a full season at Double-A Bowie in 2013, Joseph batted .299 with 22 home runs. Defense, not his bat, was supposedly his weakness.

"I don't know what level it's going to end up being," manager Buck Showalter said, "but you don't do the things he did over a long season catching last year -- driving in 100 runs and hitting close to .300 -- and not have offensive skills."

Aside from Joseph's homer and another by outfielder Nick Markakis, Tanner Roark held the Orioles in check until he watched a one-run lead become a deficit in the seventh.

Baltimore gave Roark (11-7) the only out he recorded in the inning when Joseph bunted Flaherty over to third. Young entered for Kevin Gausman as a pinch-hitter and laced a go-ahead single to left-center that ensured the end of Roark's four-game winning streak. Almost half of the 42,181 at Nationals Park erupted in cheers for the visitors from up Interstate 95.

"You know, it's weird because O's and Nats, O's, O's, Nats -- kind of close," Gausman said with a grin. "You definitely could tell it was more O's than Nats I thought."

The rally continued against a pair of Washington relief pitchers, and after Adam Jones capped the three-run frame with an RBI single, the Orioles had their biggest inning since Markakis hit a three-run home run in Tuesday's win against the Angels.

Gausman (6-3) labored through six innings, allowing three runs on eight hits with three strikeouts, ultimately giving Baltimore its 14th quality start in 15 games.

Earlier this week, that wouldn't have been enough. The Orioles hadn't won a game in which they allowed at least three runs since the last time Gausman was on the mound. After weeks of the pitching staff carrying Baltimore, the hitters returned the favor.

"Hitting's contagious sometimes, and I really feel like that's what happened in that inning," Joseph said. "It felt good to go out and give them a little bit of a cushion instead of a high-pressure situation."

David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.