BALTIMORE (AP) — Jason Hammel was peeling off his Baltimore Orioles uniform after the finest pitching performance of his career, wearing a grin that displayed not one hint of disappointment about missing a chance to make baseball history.
Teammate Matt Lindstrom walked over to the right-hander, patted him on the shoulder and said one word: “Awesome.”
Seconds later, Troy Patton emerged from the shower, looked at Hammel and applauded.
Hammel took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in his Baltimore debut, and although he didn’t go the distance, his effort Sunday helped the Orioles beat the Minnesota Twins 3-1 for a three-game sweep.
Hammel (1-0) faced the minimum 21 batters through seven innings, allowing two walks, before Justin Morneau ended the no-hit bid with a leadoff double off the right-field wall in the eighth.
“It wasn’t actually that bad of a pitch,” Hammel said. “Obviously, Morneau is a great hitter. It was a changeup that was up just a little bit. Oh well.”
The crowd of 14,738 stood in appreciation of Hammel’s performance.
“It was a pleasure to do that for the fans, the first time they’ve seen me,” he said. “They sure knew what was going on and they backed me up pretty good.”
The no-hitter was gone, but Hammel still had a 3-0 lead to protect.
Josh Willingham followed with an RBI double and Sean Burroughs drew a one-out walk before Hammel finished by striking out Luke Hughes and retiring Ben Revere on a fly to right.
Jim Johnson worked a perfect ninth to earn his second save and complete the two-hitter.
Hammel came to Baltimore in February with Lindstrom in a trade that sent Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado. Hammel allowed three walks and struck out five over eight memorable innings.
Asked if it was the best he’s ever thrown, the 6’6″ Hammel replied: “For sure. I haven’t been much better than that.”
Quite simply, he had no-hit stuff.
“I think he had a real good chance because he was real efficient from a pitch count standpoint,” Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair said. “The type of groundballs he was getting, they were kind of chopped. I thought he had a chance. I was nervous for him. It was fun to watch.”
Hammel didn’t get the no-hitter, but did not seem to mind.
“Not at all. There’s no disappointment there,” he said. “It’s one crack at it. I feel like I’m going to be around the game for long. I’m sure I’ll have more chances at it.”
After beating Tampa Bay in three straight games on the road last year, the Orioles have opened the season with two straight three-game sweeps for the first time since 1996-97 — both of which turned out to be playoff seasons.
J.J. Hardy homered for the Orioles, who have won seven straight over the Twins by a collective score of 39-9. The streak began with a four-game sweep last August in Minnesota.
The Twins scored only five runs in this series, none of them over the first seven innings. The only other times Minnesota started 0-3 were in 1969 and 1981.
“We’re going to keep grinding,” said Ryan Doumit, who went hitless in the series. “We have some pretty good baseball players on this team. We’re going to be fine.”
Twins starter Anthony Swarzak (0-1) performed admirably in place of Liam Hendriks, who was hospitalized over the weekend with apparent food poisoning. Swarzak, who’s normally used as a long reliever, gave up one run and four hits in five innings. The lone glaring flaw was Hardy’s first-inning homer.
“Swarzak threw the ball great today,” Morneau said. “We haven’t done a whole lot early in the games. They’ve thrown the ball well. Their hitters managed to get it done and we didn’t.”
Swarzak was replaced by Matt Maloney, who allowed two runs in the sixth. Adam Jones hit a leadoff single, Nick Johnson was hit by a pitch with one out and both moved up on a double steal before Wilson Betemit doubled in two runs for a 3-0 lead.
That proved to be enough offense to back Hammel, who was extremely sharp leading up to the eighth.
The only runner against Hammel over the first four innings was Willingham, who walked in the second before Doumit hit into a double play.
Morneau drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, but Willingham promptly bounced into a 1-4-3 double play. Baltimore put runners at the corners with two outs in the bottom half before Nick Markakis flied out to right.
Hammel kept the no-hitter intact in the sixth, getting three straight routine groundouts. The same thing happened in the seventh.
NOTES: Orioles LHP Wei-Yin Chen makes his major league debut Monday night against the New York Yankees. The Twins will send Nick Blackburn to the mound Monday in their home opener against the Los Angeles Angels. Hardy’s homer was his first RBI of the season. Betemit’s double produced his first RBIs with Baltimore. Morneau’s double was his 233rd, pushing him past Harmon Killebrew into sole possession of eighth place on the Twins’ career list. Orioles starters have allowed one earned run in 22 innings.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)