Derrek Lee celebrates with Felix Pie and other teammates after… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
Derrek Lee hadn't hit a homer since May 8, but he certainly remembers what it feels like to make good contact with a pitch.
So the second the ball left his bat in the 12th inning, Lee knew exactly what he had just done. He didn't need to see his teammates pouring out of the dugout while following the ball's flight.
Lee ended a night in which his team blew a four-run lead and botched numerous scoring chances with a long home run to left field off Cincinnati reliever Jose Arredondo, securing the Orioles' 5-4 victory over the Reds in front of an announced 45,382, the second sellout crowd at Camden Yards this season.
“I knew I got that one,” said Lee, who drove a 1-2 pitch deep into the left-field seats for his fifth home run. “I put a good swing on that one. If that one didn't go over the fence, we would have had some problems.”
Of the active Orioles who have hit home runs this season, only infielder Robert Andino had a longer home run drought when Lee stepped up to the plate in the 12th inning. It was the third walk-off homer of his career and the first one since he took then-New York Mets reliever Heath Bell deep in the Chicago Cubs' victory on May 11, 2005.
“It felt good to finally get a big hit, and it went over the fence,” Lee said. “It was definitely a good feeling. Hopefully, I can continue.”
The Orioles (34-39) broke a two-game losing streak and got a tough six-game homestand against two of the National League's elite teams — the Reds and St. Louis Cardinals — off to a good start. They also avoided what would have been a difficult loss as they took a 4-0 lead into the top of the fifth and knocked Reds control-challenged starter Edinson Volquez out of the game with one out in the fifth.
However, they couldn't get a big hit with runners in scoring position, going just 2-for-14 and stranding 13 base runners. Over the last three games, they are just 4-for-32 in such situations and before Lee's home run, the Orioles had been held scoreless for 202/3 innings by opposing bullpens.
That obviously included the 11th inning Friday night, when J.J. Hardy led off with a double off the glove of Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs. Orioles manager Buck Showalter allowed Nick Markakis to swing away rather than bunt, and the right fielder grounded out to third base, failing to advance Hardy.
Arredondo then retired Adam Jones for the second out and Felix Pie for the third out to send the game into the 12th. Jones kicked something in the dugout when the final out of the 11th was made, but he was one of the first Orioles at home plate to greet Lee.
“I've always felt like, when you have a good crowd, you want to play a good game and [have them] go home [and say], ‘I want to come back and enjoy the experience,'” Showalter said. “You really want to have their day at the park and the Orioles win and they want to come back and be a part of it.”
The Orioles' bullpen allowed just one run in seven innings after starter Chris Jakubauskas allowed three runs on five hits and three walks over five innings. The Reds tied the game in the sixth on Paul Janish's two-out, broken-bat RBI single offJason Berken.
However, Jim Johnson kept the game tied with two scoreless innings. Closer Kevin Gregg pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, and then Koji Uehara allowed just one hit and struck out three in two scoreless innings.
Michael Gonzalez then preserved the the tie heading into the bottom of the 12th, but it was not without some drama.
The Reds had a man on first and two outs against Gonzalez when Jay Bruce hit a low liner that Jones dove for in center field. The ball hit his glove, but rolled behind him. Reds third base coach Mark Berry waived Joey Votto home, and he was cut down by shortstop J.J. Hardy's relay throw to keep the game tied.
Votto tried to jump over catcher Matt Wieters' lunging tag, but Wieters got the reigning National League Most Valuable Player on the right foot.
The Orioles got to the talented but enigmatic Volquez in the second, a rally that started with Lee's leadoff walk. Wieters doubled, putting runners at second and third with no outs. Volquez struck out Mark Reynolds, but Blake Davis, given the start by Showalter after his error Wednesday brought in the decisive two runs in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, lined a two-run triple into the right-center field gap for his first major league hit.
“I felt like I was floating around the bases,” Davis said. “It was awesome. It was pretty exciting.”
Jones upped the Orioles' lead to three runs when he drove a Volquez pitch into the right-center field seats to start the third, and a Hardy bloop two-out RBI hit in the fourth made it 4-0.
“It was a game that we thought we had in hand and we would hate to see that one get away,” Lee said. “We didn't execute great, but we grinded it out and we're able to get a win.”