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Cruz hits pair of homers, but O's can't rally

Solo shots push Major League lead to 19; Norris allows four runs in six

MILWAUKEE -- Even Nelson Cruz couldn't save the Orioles on Wednesday.

The red-hot slugger homered twice to extend his Major League lead to 19, and despite some exceptional defensive plays, the Orioles fell short of staging yet another rally, losing, 8-3, to the Brewers at Miller Park.

With the Orioles and Milwaukee playing for the first time since 2008, two of the three games were decided by one run -- both went to extra innings -- with Baltimore's rubber-match loss the 11th in its last 17 games. The Orioles, who erased three-run and five-run deficits the previous two games, have been outscored by 20 runs over the first four innings this season, and couldn't dig out of another early hole that was extended late by a four-run Brewers eighth.

"It feels like every time we start the game we are behind," Cruz said of the O's uneven play over the first two months, with Wednesday's pitcher Bud Norris the lone starter with an ERA under 4.35.

"I don't know [how to get things turned around]. It's hard to explain. It looks like one day the pitching is there and [not] the offense. We have to put everything together. Hopefully, the next series, we'll get it done."

The defeat puts the O's at 1-2 to start a three-city, 10-game road trip and proved Tuesday's hero Yovani Gallardo can do more than just pinch-hit.

Gallardo, who won Tuesday's game with a walk-off double, showed no ill-effects from the sprained ankle he sustained in his last start on May 20. The right-hander allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings, working his way out of a self-created jam in the fourth with a trio of two-out walks by getting Jonathan Schoop to ground out.

"A lot of people may not be familiar with him ... he is one of the best pitchers in the National League and he was working on nine or 10 days' rest, so we knew it was going to be a challenge coming in," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But we were engaged there. I liked our chances 4-3 going into the ninth inning with the people we had coming up. That was a key spot."

The Orioles' only two hits over the first six innings off Gallardo were by Cruz, who has hit more home runs this month (12) than any other in his career.

Signed to a one-year deal this offseason, Cruz continued his assault on opposing pitchers with a one-out shot in the second inning and a two-out blast to dead center in the sixth. It marked his second multi-homer game of the season and gives him 48 RBIs in an impressive first two months.

Is this the most locked in he's ever been?

"Maybe in the Minors, something like that. But not in the big leagues," Cruz said. "I think the approach I've been taking the past few weeks has been pretty good."

"It seems like you make a mistake over the plate, and he takes advantage of it," Gallardo said of Cruz, who took him deep on a fastball and a cutter. "That's the kind of power that he has. You have to really locate the ball. The first one I gave up, it was a pitch a little bit up, but he stayed with it and went the other way. It could be totally different if he tries to pull that ball or gets around it a little bit."

The Orioles moved within a run in the seventh inning, chasing Gallardo from the game after Nick Markakis' two-out double. Manny Machado singled off reliever Brandon Kintzler for the O's first Cruz-less RBI and Adam Jones followed with a hit to bring on the third pitcher of the inning, Will Smith.

Smith allowed the runners to move up before he could even throw a pitch, as an errant pickoff throw to second base put the potential tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position. But slugger Chris Davis struck out swinging.

"We had some fortunate things happen to us too," Showalter said of a couple bad breaks on Wednesday. "Line drives right at people, they hit. But we didn't make enough quality pitches as a staff and we have to get a little more consistent there because it will take a toll on our bullpen."

Norris put his team in the hole early with a pair of one-out walks. giving way to a first-inning run. Norris issued a leadoff walk to Khris Davis in the second that was one of two runs to come around to score on Ryan Braun's double. The Brewers plated a fourth run after Carlos Gomez was hit by a pitch to start the fourth. Gomez stole second and moved to third on Mark Reynolds' flyout, scoring on a sacrifice fly to push Milwaukee's lead to 4-1.

"I really didn't have my breaking ball today," said Norris, who also struggled to get a good grip on the ball. "And that makes it a little more difficult. You got to mix and match. I thought [catcher Nick] Hundley did a great job. We tried to keep that at bay as best as we could. You got to pitch with what you got every time you go out there."

Norris, the team ERA leader, settled down after that and exited after six innings in the 111-pitch performance. Reliever Brad Brach, on for his second inning in the eighth, was charged with three runs. Lefty Brian Matusz gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks and Davis delivered a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.

The Orioles, who have had a revolving roster all year, could make another move prior to Thursday's game in an effort to keep everyone healthy.

"It's always possible when we are pitching four five and six inning starts and pitching in extra-inning games," Showalter said. "It has a domino effect."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
Read More: Baltimore Orioles, Nelson Cruz, Bud Norris