JJ Hardy delivered a clutch two out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to give the Baltimore Orioles the lead for good and the bullpen shut it down to help the Birds take three of four from the Tampa Bay Rays with a 5-4 victory Thursday Night.
Tampa retired the first two Orioles batters in the seventh, and with the score knotted at four, Nelson Cruz picked up his second hit of the night, a double to try and get a two out rally started. Chris Davis was then intentionally walked to put two on, with two out and Hardy proceeded to go the opposite way to drive in Cruz for the eventual game winner.
Baltimore found a way to respond each time Tampa put runs on the board. In each inning that the Rays scored (two in the first, and two in the fifth), the Orioles answered right back and scored two runs of their own.
In the first, Steve Pearce got the O's on the board with a solo home run to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Later in the inning, Adam Jones and Cruz pulled off the old little league 1st and 3rd play that allowed Jones to "steal" home to tie the game.
Baltimore loaded the bases in the fifth inning with no outs and trailing 4-2, but after a Cruz line drive went right at Tampa shortstop Yunel Escobar, a double play would have gotten the Rays out of the inning. Davis proceeded to hit a ground ball to first and James Loney made a perfect throw to first, but Escobar airmailed the return throw at first and allowed two runs to score to tie the game.
Orioles starter Bud Norris did not have his best stuff on Thursday, but was still able to gut it out and give the Orioles six innings, which early on looked to be a long shot as he threw 34 pitches in the first inning when he allowed two runs and had to strand three on the base paths.
His command was off last night, but he did strikeout five in his six innings and allowed four runs on six hits and two walks. Baltimore is 9-1 in the ten starts Norris has made against the AL East this season.
The bullpen once again came through for the Orioles as they combined for three scoreless innings of work, as Brad Brach, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton got the job done last night. Brach retired one of the two batters he faced before giving way to Miller with one out in the seventh.
Miller just did what he does as he induced a double play to get out of the seventh and then went 1-2-3 in the eighth, thus meaning that Miller got five outs, while facing just four batters. He now owns a 0.82 ERA (11 IP, 1 ER) over 11 appearances with the Orioles.
Britton tossed a perfect ninth with three ground balls for his 29th save of the season.
The win increased the Orioles lead in the AL East to seven games over the New York Yankees. After taking three of four from the Rays, the Birds will now turn their attention to the Minnesota Twins with whom they begin a four game series tonight and send Miguel Gonzalez (6-7) to the mound for the start against Trevor May (0-3) with first pitch scheduled 7:05 p.m.
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