BALTIMORE — This one had a little bit of everything for the Orioles.
Two different lineup changes before the game even started.
An unconventional 8-9 putout in the fourth inning that really wasn’t an out at all.
Five extra-base hits and seven walks for the offense, two areas in which the Orioles had languished in the season’s first five games.
Three separate comebacks.
But most importantly, a second series win in the opening week of the season after a 9-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. Lest we forget, the Orioles didn’t earn their first series win until May 2 last year and their second until May 13.
Who knows how long this fast start will continue — remember the Texas Rangers are coming to town for a three-game set before the Orioles head to the Bronx to take on the Yankees — but it’s sure been a lot of fun, hasn’t it? A five-game lead over the Red Sox and the Rays might not mean much in April, but it’s a lot better than trailing by five games right out of the gate.
After doing just enough to get by but failing to overwhelm opponents during their 4-0 start, the lineup busted out Thursday with Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds knocking in three runs apiece and Vladimir Guerrero hitting his first home run of the season. It was a good thing too, as Chris Tillman struggled in 4 2/3 innings in a second straight lackluster start for the Baltimore rotation.
With the Orioles currently missing three projected members of the starting rotation, they’ll need potent bats to stick with two of the most prolific offenses in the game over their next six games. But they hadn’t been very potent in terms of power, or simply getting on base, in the first five games of the season. The Orioles had just 11 extra-base hits entering the night before collecting five against Tigers pitching, including home runs by Guerrero and Jones and a two-run double by Reynolds.
They hadn’t been patient either, collecting just eight free passes in five games before drawing seven walks against Detroit pitching.
It was an impressive display of power and patience as every starter except Brian Roberts — who collected two hits anyway — either homered or walked to send the Orioles to their biggest run output of the young season.
The Orioles’ offensive explosion occurred despite the late scratch of shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is dealing with a lower left rib cage injury. Cesar Izturis took his place in a move that wasn’t announced until the Orioles had taken the field to warm up for the top of the first inning. Left fielder Luke Scott was a late addition to the lineup after he proved to be fit to play after a successful batting practice session.
Even the light-hitting Izturis felt the hitting bug, collecting a run-scoring single as part of the Orioles’ pivotal five-run seventh inning that transformed the Tigers’ 5-4 lead into a 9-5 victory to move the Orioles to 5-1 and all alone atop the AL East.
Hardy spoke to reporters following the game, saying he felt minimal pain when swinging hard during batting practice. It was ultimately manager Buck Showalter’s decision to keep him out of the lineup on a chilly night at Camden Yards. Hardy does not believe the injury is serious but wanted to see how it responds on Friday before committing to an immediate return to the lineup.
The injuries keep piling up, but the Orioles have overcome — and thrived — against early adversity in the opening week of the season.
Instead of making excuses, or lamenting over who’s not able to play on any given night, the Orioles continue to get the job done since Showalter took over in early August of last season.
It’s sure been a fun ride so far.