ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Orioles’ magic number is down to 12. Their lead in the American League East is 9 1/2 games, exactly where it stood before they arrived at Tropicana Field.
Was it pretty? Absolutely not. Is it a requirement? Absolutely not.
Cruz became the first player with at least seven RBIs to account for all of his team’s scoring since Colorado’s Jason Giambi on May 19, 2011 in Philadelphia, and the first American League player since Anaheim’s Garret Anderson on May 8, 2003 vs. the Indians.
Luke Scott was the last Oriole with seven RBIs on July 7, 2009 in Seattle.
Cruz hit his first triple since July 1, 2011 against the Marlins. It was the Orioles’ first bases-loaded triple since Nick Markakis on Aug. 11, 2008 in Cleveland, and the first go-ahead bases-loaded triple since Brady Anderson in the sixth inning on July 7, 2001 vs. the Phillies.
“I was just looking for something to drive and I hit it to the gap that we could score on. It was one of those wild games, but you try to do your best,” Cruz said minutes after he accepted a congratulatory handshake from Anderson in the visiting clubhouse.
“It was great. It wasn’t pretty. The only thing that matters is that we got a W.”
Cruz’s second home run of the game gave the Orioles a 7-5 lead in the 11th inning.
“I felt like I hit it pretty good,” he said. “I thought it had a pretty good chance of it going out. Like I said, it was one of those crazy games and I was happy we got the W.”
Cruz said the Orioles are aware of their division lead over the Yankees. They may not obsess over it, but they can do the math.
“Late in the year, you say you don’t want to think about it much, but you have to be everywhere,” he said. “Even if you don’t want to, you’re thinking about it. I think we’re in pretty good shape. We’ve got to stay focused and go about our business like we do every day.”
The game ended with catcher Nick Hundley arguing that an Andrew Miller pitch hit Logan Forsythe after he swung through it. Forsythe initially was awarded first base as a run scored, but the umpires correctly changed the call.
Strikeout, dead ball, game over.
“Andrew threw a really good slider,” Hundley said. “I wanted to go backfoot and Forsythe swung and it clearly hit him in the leg and we won.
“It clearly hit him. It was obvious he swung and it hit him and the rule states that a swing and it hits him, it’s a dead ball and the game is over. I was very, very confident that we had won the game and it was just a matter of time before they got it right.
“It was a wild series, some orthodox things happening to win games and lose games and we were fortunate to get out of here with a win. It was a great job by Nellie. I think he drove in all seven. We jumped on his back. He’s been good for us all year and it was a nice one to get.”
It’s also nice to maintain the same division lead as the day they arrived here despite losing twice.
“It says we’re a team that battles,” Hundley said. “We’re very confident in how we persevere and confident in how we play. We’re going to go out and try to take care of business.”
The Orioles won while Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy sat on the bench and Adam Jones didn’t enter until pinch-hitting in the ninth and delivering a single.
“We felt like we did have a full lineup,” Showalter said. “It was an organizational lineup and we got contributions from a lot of people. I’ll remember Ryan Flaherty had a big hit to set us up to go ahead in the ninth. A lot of good things. Jonesy came in and delivered a knock for us. I was hoping we wouldn’t play about 15 and then he’d have lost the day off. (Jimmy) Paredes had a good hit. It was an organizational win as much as anything, people all through.”
No one came up bigger than Cruz, who has 39 home runs and 101 RBIs this season.
“He’s been spoiling us at a high level all year, as a teammate and as a player,” Showalter said. “That’s a toss-up. He’s been solid since the day he got here and I think guys have really come to respect the way he carries himself.”
One of the more bizarre moments occurred in the fourth inning when David DeJesus hit an inside-the-park home run. David Lough ran into Alejandro De Aza’s arm and knocked the ball all the way into the left field corner.
“Scared me to death because of the collision,” Showalter said. “I saw it coming as it was developing. Two guys who hadn’t played alongside each other. There’s nothing you can do. Those drills in spring, you sit there and practice and people say, ‘Well, call it.’ Well, they can’t hear up here. There’s too much noise.
“My biggest concern wasn’t the home run, it was that we’re OK. I was really worried. I saw it. It was almost like it was in slow motion. I was watching it and I was afraid they were going to run together. So, the heck with what happened after the fact. I was just more concerned about the safely. De Aza said he actually caught it.”
Showalter said the Orioles won’t need to summon a pitcher from the taxi squad in Sarasota.
“I think we’ll have everybody back,” he said. “Darren (O’Day), his last hitter or so felt good, so it was good to get out of that. He and Andrew (Miller) feel pretty good physically, so that’s good.”
Bud Norris allowed a career-high four home runs but was spared a loss by the ninth-inning comeback.
“Got through six,” he said. “Four homers wasn’t what I drew up, but the team was in the game the whole way and obviously to score late and win on Sunday getaway day is a pretty big win for us.
“You’ve got to build momentum somewhere, and playing on the road, it never gets easier. That’s for sure. Especially coming down there, playing against a good ballclub over there. A lot of mixing and matching going on this time of the season. A lot of guys came out of the bullpen, and some quirky things can happen. That being said, it’s just a testament to the whole team, the whole roster of getting the job done and guys coming in and doing their little parts to get the job done.
“Nelson obviously had the biggest day of everybody, but guy’s have got to be in the right place at the right time. You battle, battle, battle, and to get through 11 and win and head out of here with a win is all you can ask for.”
Norris had a good view of the collision between De Aza and Lough.
“I looked out there and was hoping one of them would call it off,” he said. “Obviously, De Aza got a glove on it and they ran right into each other. They haven’t had a lot of time, so it was kind of miscommunication thing. Just a quirky play, probably the second-craziest play I’ve been part of. Nothing I can do out there. Just kind of unfortunate that the run scored, but it didn’t hurt us and we ended up winning the game, so that’s the priority.”
The craziest play he’s been involved in as a pitcher? Check Monday morning’s blog.