BALTIMORE — Given the rallies and momentum swings in the Orioles’ series opener against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night, it became a game Baltimore needed to win to not only gain ground in the playoff chase but also boost a team’s psyche.
The biggest boost, might have come from maligned closer Jim Johnson, who needed just nine pitches — eight strikes — to record a perfect ninth inning and his 40th save of the season to seal a 9-7 victory before an announced 36,761 at Camden Yards.
After watching an early three-run lead disappear, the Orioles rallied in the bottom of the seventh for a comeback victory that drew them within two games of the A’s for the second AL wild-card spot with 35 games left in the regular season.
Johnson, who had blown his previous three save opportunities, converted his first save since Aug. 6, becoming the first Orioles reliever to record multiple 40-save seasons.
Second baseman Brian Roberts drove in a season-high four runs after hitting his sixth career-grand slam – and his first in nearly three years – in the fourth inning. But the Orioles (69-58) would need more to clinch the victory.
Down 7-6 at the seventh-inning stretch, the Orioles scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of an Oakland error and two infield hits. Nate McLouth started the inning drawing a leadoff walk, then he swiped second for 29th stolen base of the season. Manny Machado’s single put runners at the corners.
After Chris Davis reached on an error by second baseman Eric Sogard that scored McLouth and tied the game, Adam Jones swung at the first pitch from Oakland reliever Ryan Cook, sending a slow roller to third. Jones beat out Josh Donaldson’s throw, scoring Machado from third.
Matt Wieters followed with another infield single, and Nick Markakis took the first pitch of his at-bat up the middle to score Davis and give the Orioles a 9-7 lead.
Given a three-run lead after four innings, Orioles right-hander Bud Norris was unable to hold the lead and suffered his worst outing since being acquired just before the non-waiver trade deadline.