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BAL@TOR: Betemit drives in a pair with a single

TORONTO -- Perhaps this is the lineup versatility that manager Buck Showalter has spoken so fondly of all spring, the kind of "pass the baton" approach that will become a lifeline for an Orioles offense without a true leadoff or cleanup hitter.

This, after all, was the matchup the Blue Jays wanted, purposely pitching around catcher Matt Wieters with two outs in the eighth inning to load the bases and bring up Wilson Betemit.

The switch-hitting Betemit against lefty reliever Darren Oliver sets up as a right-handed hitter, a spot where Betemit's batting average dips 30 points and his power numbers significantly dwindle.

But Betemit didn't need to be part of the laser show at Rogers Centre, which saw a combined seven solo home runs. He only needed one smooth stroke into center field for a two-run single that led the Orioles to a 7-5, series-opening victory Friday night.

"Wilson's had a couple of big hits for us right-handed and I know exactly what their manager [John Farrell] was thinking," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said as he watched the Jays employ three relievers in the eighth. "I would have done the same thing. His better side is left-handed. We were fortunate tonight that things didn't follow the norm."

Perhaps it was the paranormal activity of Friday the 13th, or the fact that the Orioles -- admittedly a bit overwhelmed during their first homestand -- were finally just able to concentrate on baseball.

Whatever it was, Baltimore was able to hold its ground and come out with a rare win in Toronto, where the O's are 6-29 in their last 35 games.

"We didn't give in," said closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his third save, extending his streak to 11 consecutive saves dating back to last season. "We know that's usually what happens here. There's no secret they are a home run hitting ball club; you know if you make your pitches you are going to get them out. They are a good ballclub, but we have some good guys, too."

Count Betemit among them. Signed to a two-year deal this offseason, the 30-year-old made quite a few defensive plays at third base and watched from the dugout as Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis puts runners on the corners one out into the eighth. With the Orioles down a run, Wieters' walk loaded the bases, moving the go-ahead run into scoring position.

"The matchup ended up being Betemit," Farrell said. "As well as Wieters came into this series swinging the bat, we were OK with somewhat pitching around him with second base still being open and wanted Betemit to be hitting right-handed in that situation. "

Betemit didn't wait long, jumping on Oliver's 87 mph offering.

"I wasn't trying to do too much, just trying to get a good swing and have a good pitch to hit," he said. "He threw me a fastball right down the middle."

Betemit's piece of clutch hitting delivered exactly what the O's needed in overcoming a sloppily played game that included a pair of errors to snap a three-game losing streak. The Orioles were also helped by a trio of solo homers from Adam Jones, Robert Andino and Reimold, whose ninth-inning tack-on helped give Johnson some breathing room.

"We had a few tough losses," Reimold said. "To come right back, play another tough game and come up with the big hit and big stop at the end is good for going forward."

Orioles starter Tommy Hunter tied his career high by allowing four home runs, and wasn't helped by his defense, which committed two errors, one of which led to a fourth-inning run. Hunter exited after issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh inning and sidearmer Darren O'Day kept the Orioles within a run by retiring the side.

Asked about the Orioles' struggles in Toronto, Hunter answered, "Me too. You can put that in there. I give up some runs here. It [stinks]."

Tasked with following up a solid debut against the Twins, four of the six hits Hunter allowed on Friday were homers, two of which came one out apart in the fifth inning.

"I was locating in and out the ball was just up," Hunter said. "Thankfully we kept scoring runs."

"This is a big, strong man's league and you make those mistakes, and they're not singles and doubles," Showalter said. "They end up where the grass doesn't grow - or where the turf doesn't lay down. Usually if you can hold them to solos you've got a shot. I think that was key for us tonight. That's a tribute to not walking a lot."

The 25-year-old Hunter looked poised to cruise through the fourth, but a series of defensive miscues -- by Reimold and Chris Davis -- extended the inning and allowed Toronto to squeeze out a run.

Baltimore's offense jumped on Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow with a quick run, courtesy of Reimold's leadoff double and Markakis' one-out sacrifice fly. Jones followed the early momentum with a single, but was called out by first base umpire Derryl Cousins on a tag by Lind that television replays showed did not occur. Comments