BALTIMORE -- The Orioles entered the final month of the regular season with the second-best record in the major leagues, a sizable American League East lead and their offense catching fire at the right time.
Following a 12-8 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards -- a victory that included three Orioles home runs, including a grand slam from shortstop J.J. Hardy -- the club is now a season-high 23 games over .500.
Every Orioles starter had at least one hit Sunday, and eight of the nine scored at least one run. Catcher Caleb Joseph had a career-high four hits, and Nick Markakis and David Lough both recorded three-hit games.
The victory gave the Orioles their 11th series win in their last 13, and they can get their first four-game series sweep with a win in Monday afternoon's series finale. They've outscored the Twins, 24-11, in the first three games of the series.
The Orioles (79-56) also extended their AL East lead to nine games over the New York Yankees, tying their largest lead of the season. They scored seven runs in the sixth inning -- the most they've tallied in a single frame this season -- capped by Hardy's fourth career grand slam.
For the second time this week, an opponent walked Chris Davis with first base open to pitch to Hardy. And for the second time, Hardy made them pay.
With the Orioles leading, 6-2, with runners on second and third bases following Adam Jones' two-run double, Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak intentionally walked Davis to face Hardy.
But Hardy crushed a 2-0 fastball over the middle of the plate from Swarzak, sending it over the left-field fence for his ninth homer of the season on front of an announced 40,905.
On Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, Davis was intentionally walked to face Hardy, who then drove in the game-winning run in a 5-4 victory. Hardy is hitting .308 (20-for-65) with five homers and 15 RBIs in his last 18 games.
The teams combined for five homers on a humid afternoon, but the Orioles grabbed a 4-0 lead in the third inning on Nelson Cruz's major league-leading 35th homer of the season, a solo blast, and Ryan Flaherty's three-run shot.
Cruz opened the scoring when he turned on a 1-0 hanging slider from Twins starter Ricky Nolasco and sent it deep into the left-field stands.
Later that inning, Flaherty -- making his first start since Aug. 16 -- connected with a 1-0 fastball and hit it onto the right-field flag court for a three-run homer with two outs. All six of Flaherty's homers have come at Camden Yards.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier hit a two-run homer off Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen in the fourth inning, but the Orioles got those two runs back on Jones' two-run double down the left-field line to open the sixth. They chased Nolasco (5-10) from the game for his shortest start this month (five innings, 12 hits, eight runs).
After Hardy's grand slam -- which was his first since May 15, 2011, and the Orioles' sixth this season -- Flaherty just missed his second homer of the game. He settled for a triple after the ball hit off the top of the right-center field wall.
Joseph, who opened the sixth inning with a single, then knocked in Flaherty with an RBI single, making him the first Orioles player to record two singles in the same inning since Jones on May 25, 2011 against the Kansas City Royals.
Chen earned his team-high 14th win despite allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings. He allowed eight hits and struck out seven batters while walking none. He was one out away from his third start of seven or more innings in his last four outings before allowing a two-out RBI single by Jordan Schafer that cut the Orioles' lead to 11-3 in the seventh.
Right-hander Brad Brach then entered and immediately allowed a two-run homer to leadoff hitter Danny Santana, with one of the runs being charged to Chen (14-4).
Newcomer Jimmy Paredes put the Orioles up, 12-5, on a two-out, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the seventh.
Getting the final three outs was an adventure for the Orioles.
Demoted starter Ubaldo Jimenez, making just his second appearance out of the bullpen, walked in a run in the ninth inning. He walked three of the five hitters he faced before being removed.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter then allowed a two-run single, forcing the Orioles to use closer Zach Britton for the final two outs, inducing a 6-3 double play from Eduardo Nunez for his 31st save.
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