O's clinch series, increase East lead behind big bats

Hardy has grand slam, Cruz hits 35th homer and Joseph gets four hits

O's clinch series, increase East lead behind big bats

BALTIMORE -- Despite season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters and an abdominal strain that has temporarily sidelined red-hot hitter Steve Pearce, the Orioles offense hasn't missed a beat. In fact, they could be getting better.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy continues to come up in the clutch and was one of many O's who put on a show with the bats Sunday afternoon, clobbering a grand slam as part of a season-high seven-run inning. The game, which also saw Ryan Flaherty deliver a three-run homer in his first start since Aug.16, featured a double-digit run output as the first-place O's outdistanced the Twins, 12-8.

Despite allowing six late-game runs, Baltimore hung on to increase its American League East lead to nine games over the second-place Yankees with their sixth win in seven games. And with Pearce expected to avoid the disabled list and return shortly, the lineup has become a collective effort of guys standing up and stepping in to help the Orioles roll.

"Just because they haven't been playing consistently doesn't mean they're not capable," O's manager Buck Showalter said of some of Sunday's heroes, which included Flaherty and David Lough. "Ryan was big today. I think everybody pulls for him. We all know how hard he works and how much it means to him to win, to contribute, in that order. It was good to see something come back to him. David's been the same way. Both of these guys through thick and thin. It's like Stevie. They stay ready for their opportunities."

Everywhere you looked Sunday there were examples. Jimmy Paredes -- playing in place of Pearce -- raised his average to .333 in his third game while Lough had three hits and catcher Caleb Joseph had four. The Orioles, a season-high 23 games over .500, got at least one hit from every starter and backed a solid 6 2/3 innings from lefty Wei-Yin Chen to pick up their 40th home victory this season.

"If you are not in there every day, you got to try to make the most of your opportunity and find a way to help the team in some way," Flaherty said. "Whether it's with the glove, bat, something. Do something to help the team win that day."

Slugger Nelson Cruz, who is having a career year, put the Orioles on the board with a solo homer off Twins starter Ricky Nolasco one out into the third.

"I just couldn't put guys away," said Nolasco, who allowed eight runs over five-plus innings. "If I put away four or five different hitters it's a completely different outcome, but I didn't. I let them back into the count. You can't do that against a dangerous lineup like that."

The O's went on to score four in that frame -- including Flaherty's ball to the flag court -- and broke away for good in the sixth.

"It's fun when everybody's contributing and helping the team," said Hardy, who delivered the O's sixth grand slam of the season and second in the four-game series.

Hardy, who has hit 20 or more home runs in his previous three seasons with the Orioles, highlighted that inning with his ninth homer of the year. The shortstop, who didn't go deep until June 21, has five homers in his last 18 games and is batting .307 over with 15 RBIs over that stretch.

"He's huge, hitting right there in the five, six, seven spot in the order," Flaherty said of Hardy. "He's driving in a lot of runs. He's a rock on defense so he's steady as always."

The offense and defense helped ensure Chen his 14th victory. The lefty allowed two runs on Trevor Plouffe's two-run homer and another in the seventh before exiting in favor of Brad Brach. Brach served up a two-run homer to Danny Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez issued three walks and was tagged for three earned runs over one-third inning in the ninth.

"We were kind of forced to [keep pounding away as an offense] because they were kind of chipping away," Joseph said of a Twins team that entered the series with the most runs scored in August. "It was a good thing our offense kind of kept the pedal to the metal there."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.