MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles have said all along that they were very close to putting their midseason struggles behind them and getting back to the winning ways that made them one of the surprising success stories in the first two and a half months of the season.
How close? Maybe an inch.
Mark Reynolds’ two-run single in the eighth inning backed a strong performance from Wei-Yin Chen and rallied the Baltimore Orioles to a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.
The Orioles had failed several times earlier in the game with runners in scoring position, but Reynolds was able to reach out and bloop a single just in front of center fielder Denard Span to put the Orioles ahead.
“I think my bat’s 34 inches and I used all of it,” Reynolds said. “It got in on me a lot. I’d been pulling off pitches all day and I was real frustrated with it.
“I went up there with the mindset, just stay inside the ball. We don’t need a homer. We need a single. I had the mindset of really staying on the ball and not getting out in front and rolling over on something. Stayed through it and good things happened.”
Chen (8-5) gave up three runs and six hits with five strikeouts in seven innings for his first win since June 17, and Jim Johnson picked up his 28th save in 30 chances for the Orioles, who came back to split the series after dropping the first two games.
Cole De Vries allowed one run and five hits with five strikeouts in six innings for the Twins, who led 3-2 going into the eighth inning. But Minnesota’s normally reliable bullpen faltered.
Chris Davis hit a solo homer and Nick Markakis had a hit and an RBI for Baltimore, which was outscored 25-11 in the first two games of the series.
“The way they thumped us around, they were really swinging the bats well the first two games,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s a pretty tough lineup to go through. It’s frustrating because we had some chances to really open it up some, with a lot of runners out there. It’s kind of crazy how the game is because it kind of revolves around a flare that Mark threw out there in center field.”
Alex Burnett (3-3) pitched 1/3 of an inning and was charged with both runs that Reynolds drove in to take the loss. Justin Morneau had two hits for the Twins.
Chen was a little shaky in the first inning, giving up an RBI single to Josh Willingham and a double to Trevor Plouffe that made it 2-0 Twins. But he settled down after that, giving the Orioles a steady, solid performance that they’ve come to expect from the Taiwanese rookie.
Chen gave up a sacrifice fly to Alexi Casilla in the fourth inning to fall behind 3-1, but otherwise kept the Twins off balance with an array of breaking balls and off-speed pitches. He stranded six runners on base and kept the ball in the yard after giving up seven homers in his previous five starts, including three to the Angels on July 8.
“The first inning I tried to pitch too cautious and that’s why I struggled a little bit,” Chen said through his interpreter. “But after the first inning, I just changed my eye level on them, and everything will be fine. I just kept pitching and just throwing hard.”
Chen is the only Orioles starter who has remained in the rotation for the entire season, and unfortunately for him, he has also come to expect little run support when he takes the mound. The Orioles had failed to score at least four runs in eight of his previous 11 starts and Chen left trailing 3-2 after seven.
It was looking like more of the same on Thursday against De Vries, whose only mistake was a soaring homer to Davis in the second inning.
The Orioles scratched another one across in the seventh when Davis scored on a throwing error from Plouffe at third base. For the second time in the series, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire decided to walk slumping J.J. Hardy so his left-handed pitcher — this time it was Brian Duensing — could pitch to Jim Thome.
The risky strategy paid off both times. Duensing got Thome to ground into a double play with the bases loaded to escape with a 3-2 lead.
“It was still 3-1, going into the seventh inning, and he still went out there and finished out the inning,” center fielder Adam Jones said of Chen. “We were fortunate to get him a couple runs in the eighth, and he was able to still get the win. That just shows you, he went out there and he still wanted to pitch. I enjoy that.”
NOTES: Gardenhire was feeling better after leaving the game Wednesday night because of a stomach bug. Twins RHP Matt Capps, who hit the DL on Tuesday with irritation in his rotator cuff, will likely be out for a while. “He’s not even going to pick up a baseball until he’s healthy,” Gardenhire said. The Orioles head to Cleveland next, with RHP Miguel Gonzalez (1-1, 2.59) getting the start for Baltimore on Friday night against RHP Derek Lowe (8-7, 4.43). The Twins leave town for Kansas City, where Nick Blackburn (4-5, 8.10) will make his return to the rotation against RHP Luke Hochevar (6-8, 5.16). Blackburn was recalled from Triple-A this week after making two starts. “We need him desperately,” Gardenhire said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)