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McLouth's leadoff homer sets the tone

SEATTLE -- The Orioles have been dogged all year by lack of star power and statistics that said they shouldn't be here, a half-game back in the American League East and pushing for the organization's first postseason berth in 15 years.

On Monday night, they tipped the scales on one of the most criticized aspects of the 2012 club -- a negative run differential -- with a 10-4 thumping of the Seattle Mariners in front of a cozy crowd of 13,036 at Safeco Field. The win marks the sixth time in 16 games the Orioles have scored eight or more runs, with the club holding a 38-22 edge in runs scored over the last seven.

Not that anyone on manager Buck Showalter's club is counting. You see, these Orioles, a group often referred to by Showalter as a "sum of its parts," isn't concerned with rankings -- although Baltimore's 41 road wins are the most in the league -- or individual statistics, even as several members continue to produce at a pleasantly unexpected clip. The only number that matters to this club -- fresh off securing its first winning season since 1997 on Sunday afternoon -- is wins, and Monday's offensive barrage padded that column, inching the Orioles closer to the AL East-leading Yankees and keeping them in the lead for the second AL Wild Card berth.

"Our guys kept adding on, and it's a good time of year to not be assuming anything," Showalter said of beating a last-place Mariners team that is 34-27 since the All-Star break. "And I know we haven't been."

The Orioles sent 17 hitters to the plate in the first two innings, scoring seven runs to give Chris Tillman -- making his first start in two weeks -- plenty of room to get back to form. Not that Tillman needed much help. The 24-year-old tossed six strong innings, showing no lingering effects from the right elbow inflammation that set him back, as he continued to dominate a Mariners club that traded him in early 2008.

"He's done well, period," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Tillman, who improved to 8-2 with a 3.22 ERA this season and 3-0 with a 0.83 against the organization that drafted him. "He's kind of a short-arm, over the top, a little bit sneaky, real good breaking ball. He started mixing in his changeup a little bit. He did a nice job."

And the O's backed him. Baltimore's offensive stats read like a "Twelve Days of Christmas" carol, with the club totaling 10 runs on 15 hits and four walks, including homers from Nate McLouth, who reached base four times in his first four at-bats, and red-hot Matt Wieters, who tied his career-high with 22 and has gone deep three times in his past two games. Center fielder Adam Jones added to the onslaught by going 3-for-4 with four runs scored.

"He's stepping up at the right time," first baseman Mark Reynolds said of Wieters, who has five homers this month despite an increased workload behind the plate. "We need guys to get hot right now to stay in this race."

McLouth has come on as of late as well, stepping in admirably for right fielder Nick Markakis (thumb surgery) to keep the leadoff spot productive. In nine starts since moving atop the order, McLouth -- signed to a Minor League deal after being released by the Pirates -- is hitting .293 with two homers and seven runs scored, connecting Monday for his first leadoff homer since April 30, 2010.

"Nate was here when Nick was here, so it's been a real testament to the depth and foremost to Nate," Showalter said. "The way he got after it in [Triple-A] Norfolk, he gave himself a chance to be successful. You feel good when you tell somebody go down there and there will be a need, and if a spot arises, we'll take you. And he went after it with his ears pinned back and earned everything he is getting."

Eight of the team's starting nine reaching base safely, seven of which did it off Mariners starter Hector Noesi during his four-out outing. Noesi allowed seven runs (six earned) before handing the ball to reliever Oliver Perez, who was charged with another two runs.

Seven Orioles had RBIs on the night, but as comforting as the offensive display was, watching Tillman not miss a beat in his first start since Sept. 2 was a shot in the arm for a rotation that has lacked consistency all season.

Tillman fired six innings -- allowing only Michael Saunders' solo homer -- and admitted his elbow issue was in the back of his head initially, but faded as he got going. Instead, the young right-hander concentrated on keeping the Mariners in check, retiring 12 straight at one point in a win that gives Tillman eight victories in 12 starts, surpassing his total from the previous three seasons combined (36 starts).

"I was at home last year watching [in September], and it's good to be here and to have the opportunity," Tillman said. "Been a lot of hard work in the offseason, and even in season, and it's good to see it paying off."

Added Showalter: "It's about the player. Tilly pitched some good games last year and the year before. It's not like all of the sudden he's come out of nowhere. You can tell why [former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail] and the organization wanted to put him in that deal."

Lefty Zach Phillips took over for Tillman and allowed a solo homer to Eric Thames, and Luis Ayala gave up a two-run shot to John Jaso while struggling in the ninth. Showalter had to bring in Tommy Hunter to get the final out, adding a sliver of frustration to the victory.

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