It all starts with starting pitching, and the Orioles are living the dream.
Their rotation has churned out six consecutive quality starts. It’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of the last 16 games, posting a 1.51 ERA in those 13 games.
It’s easy to understand why the Orioles are three games above .500 again and applying steady pressure to the first-place Blue Jays.
“It’s been at a level that, if we can stay there, will allow you to compete late in the season. Simple as that. That’s what we’re talking about,” said manager Buck Showalter following today’s 3-2 win over Toronto.
“In order to accomplish what we want to get accomplished, this is the type of consistency we’re going to have to have.”
Starter Bud Norris got into trouble the first two innings and got into a groove through the sixth, allowing one run in 6 2/3 and lowering his ERA to 3.73.
“I think all starting pitchers, there are a couple spots in the game where you have to make some pitches and do something to minimize the damage, which he did,” Showalter said. “I’m real proud of the way our guys have pitched the last three days against a really good offensive team. That’s what we’re going to need.
“A lot of guys go out there sometimes with the side to side with their breaking ball, but he had the depth to it too today. And the changeup was there again for him, which was big with the five or six left-handed hitters they had in the lineup today. I thought Nick (Hundley) did a nice job with him, too.”
Asked whether Norris is a better pitcher than the one who arrived via trade last summer, Showalter replied, “No, I think he was a good pitcher last year. You think about all the things that happened in his life. You go right into the middle of a pennant race, a divisional race, and 24 people he doesn’t really know. I just think he’s a lot more comfortable and kind of understands his teammates.
“It’s just so many things. We’re all creatures of the comfort zone we’re in and I think he’s just a little more... He’s very athletic, very competitive. Those are two good things if you have the type of arm that Bud has. That’s why we challenged him in the spring. He’s too athletic with too good a hand to not be able to grasp a changeup.”
Showalter pointed out the key moments beyond Norris’ pitching that enabled the Orioles to record their 13th one-run win.
“Little things like Adam (Jones) hustling down the line and ending up on second base and making them hurry on a throw,” he said. “You’ve got Cruzie (Nelson Cruz) made some big plays in left field today. J.J. (Hardy), we don’t ever take it for granted, the relay throw and Cruzie hitting him in the chest there.
“The tag, I think they were questioning blocking the plate there, but when we first started that procedure down in spring, the way they were showing us how most people were doing it, that was not a way (bench coach) John Russell wanted to do it, and we made an adjustment and we think through Matt (Wieters) and John, it made it a lot easier to do instead of swipe-tagging and reaching for guys. So, that’s an example today of why you want to do it that way.
“If you go get that ball and have to swipe, he may be safe, but by letting the ball travel... The ball always travels faster than your hand can. So, I applaud John and Matt for making that adjustment in the spring. They stayed with it. Today is the first time it really played out.”
Let’s not forget Delmon Young going from first to third on Flaherty’s bloop single in the fourth and racing home on Hundley’s sacrifice fly.
Young showed up at the January mini-camp in excellent shape and earned a spot on the 25-man roster.
“We all go through some things in our life that make us realize that there are some things I’ve got to get better at, because this game has a way of embracing you or spitting you out. It’s kind of up to you. And Delmon’s got too good of a track record,” Showalter said.
“Like I said many times, we all have to kind of remind ourselves this guy is 28. This guy hasn’t been around so long. He’s a professional player. I applaud him for knowing what his job description is and he certainly has fulfilled it. He and Stevie (Pearce) have a lot in common.”
Chris Davis’ two-run homer in the fifth broke a 1-1 tie. He’s not on pace to hit 53, but he’s had some timely shots.
“That was a big blow, for Chris as well as us,” Showalter said. “We talk every day. He has really been playing a solid first base for us through it. He’s contributing. A walk here or there.
“Chris has got so much want-to, he wants to be a contributor. It’s frustrating for him sometimes, with the level he had last year. But I wouldn’t put it past him to get it going and do similar things. You never know. He’s a hard trier. I know he internalizes a lot of stuff. It bothers him when he can’t contribute like he knows we need.”
Do these games begin to take on more meaning now, though we’re still only in June? It sure feels that way as the Orioles pursue the Blue Jays and prepare for more divisional opponents next week on the road.
“You can’t be Captain Obvious here to the players or whatever,” Showalter said. “It’s simple math. They’re ahead of you, but they’re also ahead of some other teams in our division. They’ve been playing real well and you can see why. They pitch real well, and swing the bats and defend. But I think a lot of that feeds off the fans.
“It’s like I say all the time, if it’s important to the players, it’s got to be important to me. If it’s important to our fans, then it’s got to be important to us. Simple as that.
“If we’re playing an exhibition in Norfolk, and those people want to see us play there then that’s important to us. If people travel down to Sarasota to see us play at home, that should be important to us. Thank goodness they are. You like to repay their want-to when they want to be here.”