J.J. Hardy drives in two runs to with a broken-bat single to give… (US Presswire photo )
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Behind the black metal doors leading into the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Orioles players bobbed their heads to the bass-thumping music that filled the room Thursday afternoon. Travel bags in front of each player's locker, the Orioles were ready to barnstorm out of Kansas City, having completed a road series just 40 hours after arriving here.
Their stay was brief, but they swept through the Midwest with a pair of more-than-meaningful comeback wins at Kauffman Stadium -- wins that came within less than 24 hours of each other.
For the second straight day, the Orioles went into the sixth trailing the Royals before mounting a late-inning rally on their way to victory.
Thursday's 5-3 victory was their seventh straight on the road, giving them their longest winning streak away from Camden Yards in nearly 13 years.
The Orioles (25-14) remained perched atop the American League East for the night and moved 11 games above .500 for the first time since June 24, 2005.
Their 13-5 road record is the best in baseball as they head back east to Washington to face their Beltway rival, the similarly surging Nationals.
"Everybody's contributing," said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who hit his team-high 13th homer of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth inning. "We're not leaning on one guy in particular. We're just trying to win games as a team."
There has been a different hero every day on the road, and on Thursday, it was shortstop J.J. Hardy, who hit a two-out, broken-bat single into right field that drove in two runs, including the game-winner.
Hardy, who was hitting just .177 in late April, is batting .407 (22-for-54) in his past 12 games dating to a career-best five-hit game in the Orioles' 17-inning win in Boston on May 6.
"Since that 17-inning Boston game, I've felt like a totally different hitter up there," Hardy said. "My swing definitely feels better. I'm more relaxed and just feel confident."
With the game tied at 3 in the seventh, Hardy dug in against Royals reliever Aaron Crow, whose ball was tailing off the plate. But Hardy fought off a 1-2 inside sinker from Crow, his bat barrel spinning back past the mound and the ball sneaking just past Royals second baseman Irving Falu.
"I was in a battle zone," Hardy said. "He had me two strikes, and he blew me up inside. He threw that sinker inside, and it was fortunate for me that the ball got through."
Less than 24 hours after winning a 15-inning marathon in similar fashion -- the Orioles rallied in the ninth -- Baltimore stole another game from the Royals (15-22).
"These two games could have gone either way," Hardy said. "Our pitchers have kept us close, and a couple big hits for us got us over the hump. This was a big series. After the way that game ended last night, to come back out today and be down 3-0 and come back and win, it was big for us.
"Every inning, we feel that, no matter who is coming up, we have the chance to score runs that inning. We feel confident about our lineup."
The Orioles went into the seventh trailing 3-2 but scored the tying run when Chris Davis' line drive to center hopped past Jarrod Dyson, allowing Wilson Betemit -- who had hit a leadoff single -- to score from first, putting Davis on second and chasing Royals starter Luke Hochevar (3-4) from the game.
Davis moved to third on a deep flyout to center, but Ryan Flaherty bunted into an out after a missed sign.
But a pair of rookies with just nine games of big league experience between them -- catcher Luis Exposito and left fielder Xavier Avery -- drew walks to load the bases for Hardy's big hit.
Left-hander Brian Matusz turned in his third quality start in his past five outings, yielding three runs on seven hits over six innings. Take away a rocky third inning in which Matusz (3-4) faced eight batters and allowed all three runs and the 25-year-old allowed just two hits the rest of the way.
"I've been getting better every outing," Matusz said. "For me, I'd like to go deeper in games, especially after a game like last night where the bullpen really had to work. I'm getting better. I'm starting to get that feel and attack the zone.
Jones hit his second homer this series, a two-run shot in the fourth off Hochevar that went an estimated 411 feet over the center-field fence. Jones hit the game-winning homer Wednesday night, a solo blast that went 431 feet to left. The Orioles are 12-1 in games in which Jones has homered.
The Orioles' bullpen, fresh off eight innings Wednesday, tossed three scoreless innings to preserve the win, with Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson tossing scoreless frames in the seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. Strop extended his scoreless-inning streak to 11, and Johnson earned his 14th save of the season, his 22nd straight converted save opportunity dating to last August, sealing the Orioles' longest road winning streak since they won 10 straight Aug. 29 to Sept. 24, 1999.
"I think it comes down to confidence," Johnson said of the team's success. "When you get in those games a lot and have success, it breeds confidence, and that leads to more success. It's kind of a chain reaction. The hitters are the same way. If you notice how often we score late in the game -- in the seventh, eighth and ninth -- in years past, that seemed to be a big roadblock for us. Now, it seems like if we're tied or behind late, there's no panic because they've been there and they've done [that]."