BALTIMORE — You often hope a dramatic moment like David Lough’s walk-off homer against Boston on Saturday night will be the sign of better fortunes to come.
It helped the Orioles snap a five-game losing streak and sent fans home happy after a tense day in downtown Baltimore, but “magical” occurrences like this can be found in virtually any season with most being of little consequence in the scope of a 162-game schedule. That’s what made Sunday’s demolition of the Red Sox that much more encouraging.
Manager Buck Showalter often quotes the late Earl Weaver’s philosophy of momentum being as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, and Bud Norris delivered with 6 2/3 strong innings despite his nightmarish beginning to the 2015 season. Of course, he received plenty of support as the Orioles lineup matched its highest run total since April 19, 2006.
“It was one we kind of needed,” said right fielder Delmon Young, who drove in five runs in Sunday’s 18-7 final. “We’ve been playing sloppy baseball for about a week or so. Good to get out of the rut. We had been swinging the bats well, [but] just hadn’t been playing on the defensive side well. And Bud pitched a strong game.”
The Orioles played sound defense — something that shouldn’t be taken for granted of late — and Norris quieted questions about his status in the starting rotation for the time being by holding the Red Sox scoreless until surrendering a three-run home run to Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the seventh inning. Norris lowered his ERA from 17.42 to 12.18 in his first four starts covering 17 innings.
It was his outing that was the most encouraging development of the afternoon despite the Orioles collecting 20 hits in a game for the first time in over a year.
“Bud, without a doubt,” said Showalter when asked if he placed more importance on the performance of his starting pitcher or the offense. “That’s the Bud that pitched well for us last year. This guy won 15 games last year, and he was in attack mode today. He got a little tired there at the end. Threw a lot of strike ones. He was around the zone the whole day. Bud was good.”
Norris showed improved fastball command in allowing seven hits and three earned runs while walking three and striking out two to help the Orioles win their third series of the season. His six clean innings were more than his total number of clean frames (five) in his first three outings combined.
After completing six innings just four times in their first 16 games, Orioles starters are on a mini-roll with Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Norris each turning in six or more innings over the weekend. But Norris needed a good outing more than any pitcher on the roster after a rough spring and two of the worst starts of his major league career coming in his first three outings of 2015.
“It feels really good, to be honest, just to prove to these guys that I’m here to help out again,” Norris said. “These guys know who I am. We’re trying to find our stride. We have a good group in this clubhouse, and we’re excited with the year to go.”
Yes, the Orioles regrouped nicely this weekend to calm some nerves after a 7-10 start and their ugly five-game slide. Still dealing with injuries, they need to see their pitching step up and the defense to stabilize with some new pieces until the likes of J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters are able to return.
The offense is certainly doing its part, entering Sunday ranking sixth in the majors in runs scored and taking over the major-league lead with its highest run total in almost a decade.
Fans will hope Lough’s walk-off homer and a drubbing of the Red Sox on Sunday are the catalysts for a hot streak to even out the early struggles, but the next indicator comes against the Chicago White Sox with Ubaldo Jimenez taking the hill against Hector Noesi on Monday night.
“Momentum stops once you go to sleep,” Young said. “It’s a new pitcher, a new day.”