After Wednesday’s game at Camden Yards was postponed -- forcing a doubleheader Thursday -- the Orioles needed both games against the Rangers, and quality starting pitching, to salvage a series tie.
And the Baltimore bats were ready to partake in a slugfest early, while making history in the process.
The Orioles hit home runs in their first three at-bats of the game -- getting solo shots from Ryan Flaherty, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis -- as part of a five-homer game in a 6-5 win in Game 1.
It marked the first time in AL history that a team opened with three consecutive homers and the fourth time overall, the previous time coming when the Milwaukee Brewers did it Sept. 9, 2007. Hardy hit the middle home run on that day as well. The 2003 Atlanta Braves and 1987 San Diego Padres also opened games with three consecutive homers.
And thus the latest chapter of Baltimore baseball craziness over the past five days -- which included a 17-inning win in Boston in which first baseman Chris Davis was the winning pitcher and Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton’s four-homer game Tuesday -- was written.
“Nothing surprises me when you're dealing with this level of skill,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “These are the best players in the world, but they're also human beings who are susceptible to things and capable of doing great things. It's always an honor to sit there and watch them. There's not a day that goes by that something doesn't happen.”
Adam Jones also hit his team-high ninth homer in the seventh, followed by Wilson Betemit’s two-run shot later that inning, capping the Orioles’ first five-homer game since June 30, 2010, against the Oakland Athletics.
The Orioles (20-11) would need every run, as the Rangers (20-11) received a three-run pinch-hit home run from David Murphy in the ninth inning off closer Jim Johnson, who struggled to his ninth save.
All five Orioles homers -- which included Flaherty’s first major league homer -- came off Rangers starter Colby Lewis, who became the first pitcher in major league history to strike out at least 10 batters and allow five homers in the same game.
Meanwhile, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen gave the Orioles the best start of his brief major league career, shutting down a Texas offense that entered the day averaged a league-high 5.7 runs a game.
“You got to look at that kind of like you’re playing with house money. Everyone expects you to be challenged by those types of lineups,” Showalter said. “But, what are you going to do? Are you going to pull the dirt in around you or are you going to compete? And he competed.”
Chen, the 26-year-old Taiwan native signed this offseason after four seasons pitching in Japan, held the Rangers to two runs on six hits over a career-high 7 2/3 innings, the Orioles' best start in six games. It was his third quality start in his past four outings. Chen, who struck out five and walked just one Thursday, has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his six major league starts.
"Definitely, this is my best outing of this year so far,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “I’m lucky because this is a really tough lineup for me and I think because I’m a new guy, they don’t know me that much, but on the other hand, I felt really, really good today and I had good command. Everything worked for me today. Everything was down [in the zone].”
It couldn’t have happened at a more critical time, with the Orioles' bullpen beleaguered from pitching 39 innings in a three-game series in Boston, Texas scoring 24 runs in the first two games of the series and the team having to throw 18 innings of a doubleheader.
"This is my first experience with a doubleheader because in Japan we don’t have a doubleheader,” Chen said. “After seven innings, I just wanted to keep pitching. I told the pitching coach I still want to go back to the mound and I still want to help the team, and definitely I did it."
With the Orioles leading 3-0, Chen averted a big inning in the third. He loaded the bases with one out but induced a forceout at the plate from Elvis Andrus and got Hamilton, who hit four homers Tuesday against the Orioles, to fly out harmlessly to left.
After allowing Yorvit Torrealba’s two-out RBI single in the fourth inning, Chen went on to retire 12 straight Texas batters. He left the game with two outs in the eighth to a standing ovation after allowing back-to-back singles to Andrus and Hamilton.
"Wei-Yin was a difference-maker today to get that deep in the game, and against, obviously, a good lineup,” Showalter said. “He was outstanding. He was sharp with his breaking ball, the extra day's rest. It seems like he had a little bit more finish on his fastball. He was a difference-maker for us today, and it won't be forgotten."
After allowing the trio of homers in the first, Lewis retired 18 straight Baltimore batters – with 11 strikeouts coming in that span – before Jones led off the seventh inning with a mammoth shot to left. He finished the day with a career-high 12 strikeouts.
Lewis became the second pitcher since 1918 to allow five homers and no other hits in a start lasting seven or more innings. Former Texas knuckleballer Charlie Hough did the same June 24, 1989.
In the ninth inning, Johnson came into the game with runners on second and third with no outs, and -- after allowing Murphy’s three-run homer -- struck out Andrus, the tying run, looking to end the game with Hamilton in the on-deck firstname.lastname@example.org