The Orioles rode another outstanding pitching effort to their fifth straight win Sunday, beating the Cleveland Indians 4-3.
Zach Britton was much more crisp in his second start on Sunday than his first start in Minnesota on Tuesday, when he didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Britton shut down the Tribe through six, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out five.
As in Tommy Hunter’s start on Wednesday — the game that began the winning streak — Britton had a 2-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
O’s leadoff man Nick Markakis opened the game with an infield hit. The next batter, the slumping JJ Hardy, launched a 1-1 fastball over the left field wall for his 14th home run and a 2-0 Orioles lead.
Like all of the starters in the five game winning streak, Britton (W, 1-0) did not dominate. He did set down eight in a row at one point, but for the most part, his stuff didn’t dominate. He allowed base runners in four of his six innings. His confidence level and his overall demeanor was night and day from start #1 to start 2, though. And it didn’t hurt that two of the Orioles’ important offensive weapons came to life.
Hardy would extend the lead to 3-0 with an RBI single to left in the seventh. Wilson Betemit crushed his 11th homer of the season in the eighth. It was his first long ball in 21 games, and gave the Birds a seemingly comfortable 4-0 cushion.
But the Indians were in no mood to go down easily, and made lots of noise in between their last three outs. Luis Ayala, who’d replaced Britton in the seventh and retired all six batters he’s faced, began the ninth by striking out Jose Lopez. Michael Brantley then singled, sending Carlos Santana to the plate. Santana, already 2-for-3 on the day, picked on an 86 MPH, hanging slider from Ayala and deposited it into the right field seats, pulling the tribe to within two at 4-2.
Jim Johnson was summoned to get the last two outs. It would be no easy task. The first batter Johnson faced, Shelley Duncan, doubled. Pinch-hitter Travis Hafner singled Duncan home, making it 4-3. One out later, Johnson walked Shin-Soo Choo, moving the tying run into scoring position. Johnson battled Asdrubal Cabrera in a 6-pitch at bat. With a nasty curveball, breaking down and in, Johnson finally finished off Cabrera and sealed the win.
The Orioles look to sweep a four game series in Cleveland for the first time since 1971, when they wrap up the set Monday. Tommy Hunter (4-4, 5.71) looks to build on his last outing, a 2-1 win Wednesday in Minnesota. He’ll face Justin Masterson (6-8, 4.29). Game time is 7:05.
- We’ve seen Markakis, Jim Thome, Mark Reynolds, and Ryan Flaherty start to make strides offensively.
- Chalk up all five wins in this streak to the rotation. Hunter, Chen, Gonzalez, Tillman, and now Britton have all delivered big, just as the bullpen was beginning to flounder.
- It’s hard to find an entry here, so we’ll nit-pick. Ayala was terrific for two innings. It’s understandable why Buck Showalter tied to stretch him out and save an arm in the ‘pen, but it looks like Ayala is a two-inning guy, max. With his recent struggles, maybe it would’ve provided a confidence boost for him to leave after that 6-up/6-down stretch.