O's play power ball in win vs. Twins
Five home runs support strong start by Liz
BALTIMORE -- The pilot light came back on for the Orioles on Sunday, igniting in a barrage of home runs and a cleanly pitched outing from their starter. Nick Markakis and Oscar Salazar both had multi-homer games for Baltimore, and Radhames Liz tossed eight shutout innings in a 7-3 win over Minnesota that helped the Orioles avoid a three-game sweep.
And it wouldn't have been a garden-variety sweep. Baltimore had scored just eight runs in the previous day's doubleheader, but Salazar and Markakis gave the home team an early boost in the finale. Markakis hit a two-run shot off Nick Blackburn in the first inning, and Salazar added a two-run homer in the second. Both players hit solo long balls later in the game.
The Orioles finished by tying a season high with five home runs, which is big news for a team that had totaled five long balls in its previous six games. Minnesota scored three runs in the ninth to make the game closer, but the outcome was rarely in doubt.
"I think today was a game that gives us something to be excited about for the future," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "We had a lot of young guys that played and contributed. Radhames had a good game. And we beat a good team. That's got to give you some incentive for the rest of the season, and also be a benchmark for what the possibilities are."
Liz had scuffled through his previous two starts -- both losses -- and pitched on the heels of Baltimore's shortest healthy start of the year. Garrett Olson lasted just two outs in Saturday's nightcap, but Liz (6-5) retired the first seven batters he faced. Minnesota didn't even get its second runner in scoring position until the seventh inning, underlining his dominance.
In fact, Liz was so good early that he had the entire dugout abuzz. The right-hander threw first-pitch strikes to seven of the first nine batters, and he conquered Baltimore's recent problems with the first inning. Going into Sunday, the Orioles (66-82) had allowed runs in the first inning in 19 of their previous 30 games, and 67 times overall. With Liz, it wasn't an issue.
"The stuff was the same. The big difference was my mind," he said. "I took everything down, the whole game, and didn't try to use my body too much. When I got men on base, I didn't let the emotions take me out of control."
"After the top of the first, we were ready to order the T-shirts. ... We got three outs in the first," said Trembley, teasing about escaping unscathed. "It's a big weight off everybody's shoulder. Just throw the ball over the plate. Locate, pitch ahead, let the guys behind you make the plays. Don't put your finger in the socket when guys get on base.
"Radhames did a tremendous job. He was in control. He didn't walk around the mound. He worked quick."
The Orioles handed Liz security in the form of a multi-run lead. Baltimore had been outscored 24-8 on Saturday, but took a two-run lead on a homer by Markakis, and a four-run lead on Salazar's first homer.
Salazar's second home run -- his fifth of the season -- led off the fourth inning. Lou Montanez followed with a home run of his own, giving the Orioles back-to-back homers for just the sixth time this season. Markakis homered in the seventh to extend the lead further, and Liz held the Twins (82-67) scoreless all the way through the end of the eighth.
Why the sudden power surge?
"I think it's who's pitching against you and the location of the pitches and getting good counts," said Trembley. "Obviously, the pitches that we hit -- with the exception of the first one Nick hit -- the balls were up and out over the plate. But just look at the numbers, we've got a bunch of guys who have hit home runs this year."
Salazar, who first gained notice in Spring Training, wasn't expected to be on that list. The journeyman returned from a professional odyssey that had him playing in Italy as recently as four years ago, and cut his teeth as a utilityman with the Orioles. Salazar had homered on Saturday, prompting Trembley to play him again on Sunday.
"I feel so good for the opportunity to be here. I feel so happy," said Salazar of his roundabout path. "I think that Italy is the last place you can be in baseball. There's no jobs, nothing to do. There's no Mexico, so you've got to go to Italy."
Closer George Sherrill made his return from the disabled list in the ninth inning, introducing a spot of drama to the game. The southpaw, who had been sidelined with an irritated left shoulder for weeks, showed a bit of rust. Sherrill walked two batters and gave up two hits, leaving the game with a six-run lead and the bases loaded.
Jim Miller successfully closed things out, leaving Sherrill to critically evaluate his own performance.
"I just couldn't find a rhythm. I guess that's what I get," he said. "My timing was off. I felt good in the sim game [Wednesday], but had a little extra adrenaline for this. You've just got to relax a little bit, get your rhythm, get your timing a little bit."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.