The Orioles suddenly have an offense that is clubbing the ball, a pitching staff that is holding the line and a fan base that is packing the stadium, hooting and hollering throughout the game.
After a 10-3 drilling of the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon, these Orioles are partying like it's 1979.
Before a national TV audience and a rowdy announced crowd of 40,894 -- many wearing giveaway cowboy hats in honor of late superfan Wild Bill Hagy -- the Orioles again pounded the Cardinals. They've captured the first two games by a combined 22-5.
The Orioles (67-49) have won seven straight series and are at a season-high 18 games over .500 while moving a season-best six games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees for first place in the American League East.
This team hasn't won a division crown in 17 years -- the Orioles haven't had a six-game lead since Sept. 15, 1997 -- and the fans at Camden Yards certainly seem ready for it. Before the eighth inning, 1983 World Series Most Valuable Player and MASN broadcaster Rick Dempsey began waving his cowboy hat to stir up the crowd and then broke into two ear-splitting chants of "O-R-I-O-L-E-S." It was just another throwback to the glory days on a weekend in which the franchise was celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Saturday's rout didn't have any of the three-run homers coveted by Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, but it included three two-run long balls, including rookie catcher Caleb Joseph's fifth straight game with a home run. The Orioles' 16-hit attack was plenty of offensive support for beleaguered starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who was pitching in his first big league game since July 5.
After spending nearly a month on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle, the 30-year-old right-hander walked two of the first three batters he faced. He fell behind 1-0 when Jhonny Peralta doubled to left to drive in Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals nearly scored two runs on the double, but Jonathan Schoop's relay home from left fielder Delmon Young cut down Matt Holliday at the plate for the final out of the inning. The umpires reviewed whether Joseph had illegally blocked the plate, but after a crew chief review, the out stood.
Inexplicably, the Cardinals weren't patient at the plate against Jimenez after the first. They scored just twice more, on a solo homer by Jon Jay in the second and Jay's sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Jimenez (4-8) threw six innings, giving up three runs on six hits and three walks, just one after the first. Despite his long layoff, Jimenez still leads the American League with 63 walks. It was Jimenez's first win since June 30, the last time he had started at Camden Yards.
It was an easy transition back, however, because the slugging Orioles offense staked him to a 5-2 lead by the third.
Joseph, the 28-year-old minor league lifer who received a call-up only because All-Star Matt Wieters was injured, has been on a power run in the past week. He hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat Saturday afternoon, giving him home runs in five straight games in which he has played.
That sets a record for Orioles catchers and puts Joseph in third place in franchise history for most consecutive games with a home run. Reggie Jackson in 1976 and Chris Davis in 2012 are tied for first with homers in six straight.
In that span, Joseph has homered five times in 15 plate appearances after going deep last Saturday against the Seattle Mariners. Joseph didn't play in two of the Orioles games this week, one because of a personal situation Friday night. Joseph became the 15th catcher since 1914 to homer in five straight games. The Cincinnati Reds' Devin Mesoraco did it in June.
Joseph's effort continued the Orioles' long-ball barrage against Cardinals pitching. After hitting six Friday night, the Orioles added three more homers Saturday against St. Louis right-hander John Lackey. They had eight players hit nine homers in a 15-inning stretch spanning the games.
Eight of the nine positions, including designated hitter, and seven of the nine spots in the batting order homered in that span. Right fielder Nick Markakis was the only Oriole to start both games and not homer. First baseman Chris Davis was the only Oriole without a hit Saturday.
After Joseph's second-inning shot, Nelson Cruz smacked a two-run home run in the third, and Young added another two-run blast in the fifth against Lackey, who was making his second start with the Cardinals after being traded from the Boston Red Sox on July 31.
Cruz, who hadn't gone deep since July 25, has 30 homers and 20 doubles on the season, the 18th time an Oriole has done that in modern franchise history. He is the 19th Oriole to hit 30 homers in a season.
Lackey (1-1 in St. Louis, 12-8 overall) lasted just five innings, allowing a season-high nine runs on a season-worst 13 hits and two walks. He had given up just seven runs in his past four starts combined.
The Orioles are now 3-5 all-time against the Cardinals (61-54) and 9-4 in interleague play this year. They'll go for the sweep Sunday with rookie Kevin Gausman on the mound.
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