It would have been easy for the Orioles to mail it in when they fell behind 7-1 in San Francisco on Sunday.
Playing the final game of a long 10-day road trip — the last seven days in the Bay Area — and still a cross-country flight away from their second day off since the All-Star break, the Orioles looked like a team largely going through the motions for several innings as starter Wade Miley allowed six earned runs and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. The defense wasn’t sharp, and the Baltimore lineup was retired on a total of 15 pitches from Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto in the third and fourth innings.
You could hardly blame fans who might have turned the channel or elected to enjoy an early-evening nap at that point, but they missed something special as the Orioles bounced back to score seven times over the final three innings with the exclamation point being a Jonathan Schoop three-run homer with two outs in the ninth. Whether this is remembered as a season-defining win remains to be seen — Orioles manager Buck Showalter loves to cite Earl Weaver’s adage of momentum being as good as the next game’s starting pitcher — but a 5-5 road trip feels much better than a 4-6 mark for a club that’s struggled on the road all season.
There was something fitting about Schoop finishing off the colossal comeback with a three-run homer on what would have been the late Hall of Fame manager’s 86th birthday.
The Orioles owned just one win when trailing after eight innings all season, but they did secure their 34th comeback victory of 2016, third most in the majors. As flawed as they might be and as quickly as many want to dismiss their playoff chances at any sign of trouble, these Orioles under Showalter continue to be as resilient as they come.
They now return home and will play 25 of their final 45 games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where their 39-17 record has made them the best home team in the majors in 2016. That’s certainly good news for a club that needed a miraculous Sunday win to improve to 27-34 on the road.
All but 10 of those remaining games come against teams currently holding winning records, but the Orioles have fewer remaining road contests than either Toronto or Boston, an advantage over the final seven weeks of the regular season.
The Orioles have obvious flaws, but they’ve spent all season in first or second place and have provided more joy than frustration in a season in which outside expectations weren’t all that great at the start.
A loss hardly would have meant the sky was falling, but the showing wasn’t pretty for much of Sunday. Then, the Orioles reminded us what we should have already remembered countless times over the last five years.
You don’t doubt their resiliency or effort.
Lost in Schoop’s heroics on Sunday was a good bullpen performance of 4 2/3 scoreless innings a day after right-hander Darren O’Day was officially placed on the disabled list with a rotator cuff strain.
The perfect eighth from All-Star setup man Brad Brach was particularly encouraging after the right-hander entered Sunday with a 3.60 ERA since the All-Star break and a 5.40 mark in August. As they did when O’Day was sidelined with a hamstring injury for nearly two months earlier in the season, the Orioles will lean heavily on Brach to turn the ball over to All-Star closer Zach Britton, who improved to 37-for-37 in 2016 save chances on Sunday.
It will be challenging enough to weather another O’Day absence, but the Orioles need Brach to get on a roll again if the bullpen has any chance of continuing to own the best ERA in the AL.
Hitting for reliever Donnie Hart, Steve Pearce just missed hitting a three-run homer in the eighth inning as he was able to come off the bench for a second straight day after missing five days of action.
A flexor mass strain in his right elbow is bound to limit Pearce’s ability to play defense the rest of the way, but the Orioles desperately need his bat against left-handed pitching. Baltimore is hitting .234 with a .690 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handers and will see a pair of southpaw starters — Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price — in a two-game set with the Red Sox beginning Tuesday.
Pearce is hitting .339 with an 1.104 OPS against lefties this season.