BALTIMORE – Jim Johnson had no idea when he was told. The Orioles have now 100 consecutive games when leading after seven innings.
That streak began on Aug. 14, 2011, and that was a game that Johnson saved.
“If you look at the date, that's pretty much when things started to turn around here. So we kind of point to that as maybe the beginning,” Johnson said.
Many people will get excited that the Orioles beat R.A. Dickey, who one-hit them last June. The Orioles scored four runs in the second off the National League’s Cy Young Award winner last year and held on to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 before 13,272 on Tuesday night.
In the first 20 games of the season, the Orioles have faced David Price, last year’s AL Cy Young winner and Dickey three times and won all three. They’re also 9-6 against AL East teams and have won four of the five series played against the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays.
“I think the key phrase is 'so far.' We have a lot of bridges to cross, but I'd rather see that than the other way. We've got a quick turnaround, a game tomorrow, and then head out to the West Coast for 11. There's another challenge around the corner, and I'm proud of the way they're taking on all of them. We know how good Toronto's going to be, and Tampa and New York and Boston,” manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, and have won five of six.
Johnson, who led the major leagues with 51 saves in 2012, is off to a terrific start with eight saves and a win in the first 20 games. He allowed a two-out ninth inning single, but struck out J.P. Arencibia to end the game.
For the fourth time in five games, an Orioles starter made it through six innings, and though they’re still the only major league team without a seven-inning start, there’s been some improvement.
“I know that they've been frustrated, they've been talking that they're frustrated with the walks here and there, but it's still early, Right now we're just trying to tread water until everyone gets in their groove,” Johnson said.
After their four-run outburst in the second against Dickey (2-3), the Orioles had just one hit and badly needed their bullpen.
Miguel Gonzalez (2-1) was terrific into the fifth. He allowed just three hits, and after he got two outs in the sixth, Adam Lind and Jose Bautista walked for Toronto (8-13). Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run home run to left to cut the lead to 4-3. It was his third of the season.
Melky Cabrera tripled off the center field wall, but Gonzalez rebounded to retire Brett Lawrie on a fly ball to left.
“Balls were up. Just trying to do too much when I really didn’t need to. Good thing we got the win,” Gonzalez said.
In six innings, Gonzalez allowed three runs and five hits. He walked three and struck out four.
Brian Matusz pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, walked Mark DeRosa to start the eighth, then left it up to Pedro Strop. Strop retired the first two hitters, walked Encarnacion, and with runners on first and third, struck Cabrera out looking.
“That was huge because that was the game right there,” Strop said.
After some rocky outings, Strop has thrown 2 1/3 scoreless outings.
“I’ve been struggling lately and that’s good to have some confidence back and I feel even better because I gave my team the opportunity to win. Who knows? Why might be playing still. But I feel pretty good. Like I said before, all those innings that I pitched before, I felt good.The result was just wasn’t the one we wanted,” Strop said.
In the second Dickey (2-3) began by allowing three straight singles to Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters for one run. With one out, Ryan Flaherty walked to load the bases, and Nolan Reimold scored Davis on a fly ball to left. After a walk to Nate McLouth, Manny Machado singled to score Wieters and Flaherty for a 4-0 lead.
“Tough pitcher. That ball is real tough to hit. We did a great job as a team. Key hits in those key situations. With bases loaded, we took advantage of his mistakes. Came out pretty good for us,” Machado said.
NOTES: Josh Stinson makes his Orioles debut on Wednesday against Toronto’s Brandon Morrow (0-1, 4.60). A player move must be made to make room for Stinson.
-Jones has reached base in all but one game this year. He has hits in 18 of the 20.