DETROIT — After one inning of baseball at Comerica Park on Sunday afternoon, the Orioles were in a five-run hole against the Detroit Tigers. But for these Orioles, it was business as usual, not an insurmountable deficit. In the bullpen, the relievers were still talking about who was going to pitch the late innings with the game on the line. In the dugout, the hitters were calm, readying themselves to play a part in chipping away at the Detroit lead.
“It [was], ‘OK, here's what we've got in front of us,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said afterward.
They had faced this before on the road, when they fell behind by five runs in the first inning July 31 at Yankee Stadium, only to score 11 unanswered runs for the win.
And on Sunday afternoon, these Orioles wrote their most recent chapter of resiliency against the Tigers, scoring seven unanswered runs to rally from down 5-0 for the third time in their past 18 games while taking a pivotal road series in Detroit. The Orioles' 7-5 victory over the Tigers in front of an announced crowd of 41,511 at Comerica Park was their 11th win in the past 15 games, and fifth in their past seven.
“We are confident,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who hit a two-run double in the Orioles' four-run second inning.
“Obviously we feel like we can win every game. We didn't know we were going to score more than five, but we knew we could. It wasn't like we were thinking the game was over in the first inning.”
Equally incredible was where this comeback happened — the surging Tigers had won 18 of 20 at home and hadn't lost a home series in more than two months, since they dropped two of three June 5-7 to the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers' 34 home wins are third-most in the American League.
“There's a lot of trouble lurking in that lineup,” Showalter said. “And I'm glad they're somebody else's problem now.”
The Orioles (66-55) took control of one of the two American League wild-card positions while sending the Tigers two games back in wild-card contention.
Despite a 41-pitch first inning in which six of the first seven Tigers batters reached base — and five scored — Wei-Yin Chen gave the Orioles five innings to earn the win. He also became the first Orioles pitcher to win at least 12 games during his rookie season since Daniel Cabrera won 12 in 2004.
Chen rebounded from his rocky first inning, allowing just two hits after that and allowing Showalter to save long reliever Steve Johnson. Chen has been struggling in the first inning this season — allowing 19 earned runs in 25 innings for a 6.84 ERA — but has a 3.26 ERA after the first. .
“This is baseball,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “You never know what's going to happen. You never give up, you just keep fighting.”
The Orioles scored all seven runs off Tigers right-hander Doug Fister, who had allowed seven earned runs in his previous five starts combined over a span of 381/3 innings.
Chris Davis' solo homer to lead off the second inning opened the doors to a four-run inning. He became the first Oriole to hit homers in back-to-back games in Detroit since Miguel Tejada in 2004.
“Guys kept battling,” Showalter said. “I actually thought Chris' home run kind of got everybody thinking this wasn't going to be a rollover day, which never is with our guys.”
Later that inning, Nick Markakis added an RBI double and Hardy hit a two-run double — both hits coming with two outs — to make the score 5-4.
“I feel like five runs, we feel like we are capable of scoring five runs, so they score five runs in the first, we don't feel like we are out of the game,” Hardy said. “Coming back and scoring four that next inning was big for us.”
In the fourth, Nate McLouth's two-out triple gave the Orioles a 6-5 lead, followed by Adam Jones' looping single to right that scored McLouth and chased Fister from the game.
With the lead, Chen could confidently turn the game over to the Orioles' bullpen, which threw four shutout innings.
“There is no doubt they are awesome,” Chen said.
“After I walked to the dugout, I was thinking, ‘I got a win today,' because we have a really good and strong bullpen and they will save the win for me.”
Four relievers — Luis Ayala, Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson — combined for the four scoreless innings, capped by Johnson's perfect ninth inning to earn his 37th save, which tied Gregg Olson (1990) for the second-highest single-season total in club history.
With “this team, this year, you are never out of a game,” O'Day said. “So, we are down there, we are always down there ready to pitch.”
The Orioles' bullpen — which allowed just two hits on 15 batters faced — had a 1.56 ERA over the past 16 games.
“Everybody came in and did their job,” Showalter said of the bullpen. “That chain only works if there's not a weak link in it.”