video thumbnail

WSH@BAL: Cruz's infield single leads to two runs

BALTIMORE -- It's been a long time since the Orioles pieced together a string of successful seasons like the ones they're in the midst of now.

That can make some statistics misleading, like the O's reaching 50 wins in the fewest amount of games since 1997. What is clear, though, is that in this season's American League East -- a division in which the Orioles are guaranteed to hold at least a share of the lead entering the All-Star break -- Baltimore has a chance to do some damage.

"We have a real good team," Steve Pearce said. "We're firing on all cylinders right now and I like where we're at as a ballclub."

Recently, Pearce has been at the front of the O's charge, and the slugger belted a home run and scored twice as the Orioles held off the Nationals for a 4-3 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Thursday night.

The win is Baltimore's eighth in 10 games and moves the O's (50-41) three games ahead of the Blue Jays for first place in the division with three games left in the first half.

But Thursday, it seemed, would be a challenge. Gio Gonzalez (6-5) was on the hill, and he carried a 22-inning scoreless streak into the start. Just two batters into the game, Pearce ended that with his home run.

With three more runs in the third inning and a solid day all the way through for the pitching staff, Baltimore never trailed and took the rubber match of a rain-shortened Battle of the Beltways

"It's a tough lineup," Gonzalez said. "You go against these guys, especially all the way down to the last guy. It's definitely a battle, trying to mix it up and try to go out there and work a tough game."

Wei-Yin Chen gave the O's 5 2/3 solid innings to pick up his ninth win before the All-Star break for the first time in a career that spans back to successful days in Nippon Professional Baseball.

In those five seasons in Japan, Chen (9-3) compiled 36 victories and a 2.59 ERA. Wins may not tell the full story for a pitcher, but they can tell the story for a team, and the Orioles have provided the ideal complement for the consistently solid lefty.

"We love what he brings to this team, we love his ... fortitude that he shows every time he goes out there and takes the ball," Jones said. "We're just happy with the last three years we've had him here."

Baltimore spotted him four runs with Pearce's first-inning homer and an outburst in the third inning that saw both Jones and Nelson Cruz drive in runs.

But Chen also used six strikeouts to maneuver through a potent Washington offense and out of some dicey jams.

With a pair of runners in scoring position and two outs in the fourth, Chen froze Bryce Harper with a 92-mph fastball to escape the frame. An inning later, he whiffed Anthony Rendon with a curveball to strand a runner on third.

"Sometimes a W is one of the least things a pitcher has control over," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "If you're consistently good, you increase your chance of getting one."

And then there's the bullpen, which has been among the best in baseball. First, Tommy Hunter relieved Chen with a runner on second and two outs in the sixth. He escaped. Two innings later, Darren O'Day loaded the bases with two outs. He got out of it, too.

Zach Britton's ninth inning was smooth, with an infield hit as the only blemish on his 15th save of the year.

"I think the reason I can get that many wins is because of my teammates really picked me up during the first half of the season," Chen said through an interpreter. "Our lineup, our bullpen, my catcher, all of my teammates are playing really well."

The Orioles will meet up with the Nats once more this season, on Aug. 4 as a makeup for Tuesday's postponement. Showalter spoke glowingly of the Interleague rival during the week and views the Nationals as a World Series contender.

With three games until the All-Star break, though, Baltimore is the team with the better record and the firmer playoff position. After an even week of baseball, there is that chance these two will meet more than once more this season.

"You raise the competition," Jones said. "We love the fact that you never know what could happen in October. You could have a Battle of the Beltways when it's a little colder and bring the fans back out."

MLB.com Comments