Despite late scare, Orioles remind us what winning formula looks like

July 16, 2011 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You knew the Orioles would eventually win another game.

I was pretty sure, anyway.

I just didn’t think Alfredo Simon — scheduled to return to the Dominican Republic on Sunday for a hearing regarding his manslaughter case — would be the one to provide the best start by an Orioles pitcher all month, pitching seven strong innings and allowing two earned runs to snap the club’s nine-game losing streak in a 6-5 win over the Cleveland Indians.

And I really didn’t think maligned reliever Michael Gonzalez would be the one to slam the door on the Cleveland rally when closer Kevin Gregg walked the bases loaded and gave up a three-run double to Orlando Cabrera to turn the Orioles’ comfortable 6-2 ninth-inning lead into a one-run heart attack special. However, Gonzalez recorded his first save since April 8, 2010 after signing a two-year, $12 million contract two winters ago to be the Baltimore closer.

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But these are the Orioles, of course. Nothing comes easy and things rarely go according to plan, especially over the last five weeks.

Aside from Gregg’s inability to throw the ball over the plate in the ninth, the Orioles played a relatively crisp game in which they received good starting pitching, three much-needed insurance runs in the eighth inning, and contributions from unlikely sources.

Nick Markakis hit a home run and had three extra-base hits for the third time in his career, Adam Jones drove in two runs, and the struggling Felix Pie’s two-run double in the eighth proved to be the difference in the one-run victory.

Simon was the difference in the game, becoming the first Baltimore starter to complete seven innings since Jeremy Guthrie on July 1 and only the second starter to do it in 29 games. His outing was also the first quality starter by an Orioles pitcher since Mitch Atkins on July 5. It was Simon’s longest appearance since pitching five innings against the Yankees on April 9, 2009.

“It’s just a reminder this is a formula for good baseball, something we were doing some, and we need to get back to it,” Showalter said. “We’ll see if [Mitch] Atkins can do it tomorrow. He’ll have his work cut out for him against a good team. Sometimes, you’ve got to see it, what it means on the field. We made it a little interesting there at the end, but we made it stand up.”

To turn to Gonzalez in the ninth after Gregg’s implosion was even more unlikely, given his disastrous year and a half in Baltimore. However, the lefty reliever has been more effective of late, entering Saturday’s game with a 2.31 earned run average in 11 2/3 innings since June 14.

Despite the drama of the ninth inning, everyone could finally breathe a sigh of relief when Gonzalez enticed Grady Sizemore to ground out to Derrek Lee to end the game, giving the Orioles just their second win in 16 tries and seventh victory in their last 30 games.

“There’s an adrenaline rush that you love (with closing),” Gonzalez said. “Today, we weren’t going to lose. We had gone too far and done well in the game and I had that same mindset. This is a great feeling. Now we just have to go out and have fun tomorrow.”

Easier said than done, but the Orioles will take a win any way they can get it at this point.