Felix Pie, left, Ty Wigginton, center, and other Orioles greet… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Buck Showalter isn't making pitches or swinging the bat or even pushing the right buttons every time, but somehow, some way, the team with the worst record in baseball isn't losing under its new manager.
The Orioles won Thursday for the third straight game since Showalter took over, this time a 5-4 walk-off victory over Los Angeles that marked the club's first three-game sweep of the Angels in nearly 11 years.
"Nothing's as bad as it seems, and nothing's as good as it seems," said Showalter, who hadn't managed since 2006 before taking over the Orioles on Tuesday. "I tried to come into it with a real open mind about it. There's enough track-record players here that you know they're better than that, but things snowball. We all know that."
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Cesar Izturis singled home pinch runner Julio Lugo to keep the Orioles (35-73) perfect in the Showalter era. This is the same club that didn't win three times in 2010 until their 19th game of the season.
"Everybody has a lot of respect for Buck, and we just want to play our best behind him and show that we are capable of winning games and beating good teams," said rookie right-hander Jake Arrieta, who delivered his best performance as a big leaguer Thursday. "And I think we showed that tonight and the rest of the series. We've got a lot of talent here, and it's just a matter of time before we put a lot of wins together. "
Arrieta is one of the young players the Orioles and Showalter are counting on to turn around 13 consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore. On Thursday, he showed why there is so much hope surrounding him by taking a no-hit bid into the fifth inning and a shutout bid into the eighth before eventually getting a no-decision.
Consistently throwing a darting fastball at 94 mph and a sweeping, nearly unhittable curveball, Arrieta allowed just four hits and set big league career highs in innings and pitches.
"That's the most strikes with the best stuff I've seen him have," said catcher Matt Wieters, who has caught Arrieta in the majors and minors. "That stuff and that command [were] pretty special tonight."
Arrieta had allowed just three hits and one walk heading into the eighth with the Orioles up 4-0. He gave up a single to pinch hitter Reggie Willits, struck out the next batter and then walked Erick Aybar.
Maicer Izturis then hit a routine double-play ball to second baseman Brian Roberts, who had already missed converting a more difficult potential double-play ball in the game. Roberts bobbled the grounder and then had to quickly shovel the ball to second base for the sure out.
Instead of escaping the jam and preserving the shutout, Arrieta was pulled for left-hander Michael Gonzalez. Arrieta walked off the field to a standing ovation from the energetic announced crowd of 17,362.
Bobby Abreu followed with a single up the middle off Gonzalez that made it 4-1.
"I wanted to stay in the whole game," said Arrieta, who threw 108 pitches, 68 for strikes. "But it came to a point in the game where a decision had to be made, and I think he made the right decision. Gonzalez got the ground ball we were looking for. … It was just one of those unfortunate hops. But I think he made the right move there."
Showalter then pulled Gonzalez for righty Jason Berken, who, on his third pitch, surrendered a three-run homer to Torii Hunter that tied the score at 4. Showalter wondered at that point whether his new team would be deflated.
"I looked for that," Showalter said. "Part of playing, not only in the big leagues, but in the American League [is] big, strong, hairy guys here. They hit it where the grass doesn't grow. And that's part of playing in this division, this league. That's part of it. We've got some big guys, too. Maybe not as hairy."
The Orioles, though, didn't give up. Berken (3-2) stayed in the game and retired four of his next five batters and eventually recorded the win.
"I feel good about the fact that Buck stuck with me," Berken said. "My goal is to go out there and finish the inning off. Jake deserved to win that game."
The Orioles rallied in the ninth, not needing a big, hairy home run, instead using small ball for the victory.
Wieters led off the ninth against Los Angeles reliever Francisco Rodriguez (0-3) and doubled to left-center field. Lugo ran for him and made it to third safely on Corey Patterson's sacrifice bunt.
Facing a drawn-in alignment of five infielders, Cesar Izturis smacked a clean single to center to score Lugo and trigger a celebration at both home and first, where the popular Izturis was mobbed by teammates.
"We have the talent; there was no doubt about that," said right fielder Nick Markakis, whose sixth-inning homer, his eighth of the year, broke a scoreless tie against Los Angeles' Dan Haren. "We need to go out there and have good pitching, good hitting and have the good defense that we played in this past series. It's hard to beat a team that's doing that."