O's home run barrage continues in series win
Joseph homers in fifth straight game while Jimenez has quality start
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' anniversary celebration was long over Saturday afternoon, the prior night's fireworks and laser show already a thing of the past. But the O's mashing, which went to the tune of a six-homer 12-2 Friday night win? Still very much alive.
Baltimore piled on Cardinals starter John Lackey, picking up right where it left off in a double-digit hit contest that featured new club records -- for catcher Caleb Joseph -- and milestones for slugger Nelson Cruz. The pair each went deep, and were joined by a two-run shot by Delmon Young, to give right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez plenty of support in his return from the disabled list.
The end result, a 10-3 series victory over the reigning National League champion Cardinals, puts the surging Orioles a season-high 18 games over .500 and six games up in the American League East for the first time since Sept. 15, 1997.
An enviable position, no doubt. But manager Buck Showalter's club isn't one to relish where they are in the standings.
"These guys are as volatile each time you go out there, and if you let your guard down, there's somebody there to pop you back to reality," Showalter said following the Orioles' seventh consecutive series win. "We understand the number of games left and the opportunity we have, and I don't think the guys want to let a day pass without getting closer to their goal."
The O's keep inching toward October, lighting up Lackey -- St. Louis' Trade Deadline acquisition-- for a season-high nine runs over five-plus innings as their lineup continues to click on all cylinders. The O's, who knocked Justin Masterson out of the game early on Friday, hit nine home runs by eight different players over a 13-inning span and have scored 40 runs over the past six games, 22 of which have been in the first two games of the series.
"We've faced their guy a few times because he was over in the American League, so that probably helps a little bit," Joseph said. "You hope it's seven days a week, not just one day a week, but we're realistic and we know you're never as good as you think you are, you're never as bad as you think you are."
Joseph has had a heavy hand in the recent offensive outbreak, as the 28-year-old rookie set a new Orioles record in becoming the first catcher to homer in five consecutive games. Down two early as Jimenez struggled with command, issuing two walks before he recorded the second out of the game, the Orioles took the lead in a three-run second inning capped by Joseph's two-run shot. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, fresh off a two-homer game, singled and scored on Young's double, with Joseph clobbering Lackey's first pitch to send the crowd to its feet.
"I'm not talking about it," Showalter said with a grin when asked about Joseph's streak. "I know he is. I think I'm more impressed by the way he and Nick [Hundley] are catching our pitching staff."
Jimenez, making his first start since July 5, was able to settle down and turn in a quality start in his six innings. Despite bullpen activity as early as the fourth, Jimenez held the Cardinals to one run after the first two innings and picked up his second win in 10 home starts.
"It felt great," Jimenez said of pitching in front of the packed crowd of 40,894. "It felt like every pitch means something right now because everyone is aware of what we are doing."
Jimenez needed 27 pitches to get through the first inning, and it could have been more if not for a play at the plate. With runners on first and second with two outs, Jhonny Peralta hit a double to left field. Matt Carpenter scored easily from second, but Young fired the ball to Jonathan Schoop, who relayed the throw to Joseph at the plate to throw out Matt Holliday. After Holliday was ruled out, Matheny requested a crew chief review. After a short review period, the call was confirmed. Young also continued to give the Orioles some fantastic at-bats in a limited role, taking Lackey deep for a two-run homer in the fifth inning.
Cruz went deep before that, hitting the 30 home run mark for the second time in his career with a two-run shot off Lackey in the third inning. Cruz narrowly missed a second homer, doubling off the green padding on the center-field wall with one out into the fifth and scoring on Hardy's two-out single.
"This is a team that is swinging the bat well," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of an Orioles team that totaled 16 hits Saturday afternoon. "But it was another one of those days. I don't think many times this year we've said, 'That's one those days' two times in a row. They just kept swinging it."
And the Orioles, who now have 116 games in the books, know they can't let up.
"They're not going to roll over and give up and neither are we, and so we need to go out there and continue to play solid defense and pitch well and get timely hits," Joseph said of maintaining their spot atop the division. "They're definitely coming after us; they're coming after us hard, so we got to keep the foot on the pedal and try and run away with it."