BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles suddenly have an offense that is clubbing the ball, a pitching staff that is consistently limiting the opposition 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 first-place Orioles are partying like it’s 1979. Or at least their fans are.
“Nothing is given. Every day is another challenge,” Manager and self-imposed reality-checker Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles had another stout challenge Saturday afternoon, and it was answered resoundingly. 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 temporarily hapless Cardinals, capturing the first two games by a combined score of 22-5.
The tone for the Orioles’ latest victory, their 15th in 22 post all-star break games, was paced by a 28-year-old rookie catcher who wasn’t on the 40-man roster this winter and could have been grabbed by any team. Talk about unlikely heroes and the lingering scent of Orioles Magic.
Caleb Joseph considered giving up baseball this year before he was offered a spring training invite. On Saturday, with a second-inning clout just over the left field wall, he homered in his fifth straight game, setting the franchise record for a catcher. As he touched home plate, Joseph clapped his hands. He then fist pumped the air and screamed as he headed into the dugout.
“It’s just a big whirlwind of emotions,” said Joseph, who has homered five times in a span of 15 plate appearances in the last week. “You set a record, and maybe seven, eight months ago I was thinking about hanging it up. Every day in the big leagues is such a blessing, and especially to be on this team with this group of guys and to be in first place — it’s just a great feeling.”
Joseph’s streak is one behind Reggie Jackson’s (1976) and Chris Davis’s (2012) for most consecutive games with a homer in club history.
The first-place 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 in the American League East.
Saturday’s bludgeoning didn’t have any of the three-run homers coveted by late Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, but it included a trio of two-run longballs. The 16-hit attack was plenty of offensive support for enigmatic starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who was pitching in his first big league game since July 5.
“At first, I was a little bit out of control. But the guys put a lot of runs on the scoreboard so that made me definitely feel a little more comfortable out there,” said Jimenez (4-8). “And then I just attacked the strike zone.”
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. Jimenez fell behind 1-0 in the first when Jhonny Peralta doubled to left. The Cardinals nearly scored twice on the play, but Jonathan Schoop’s relay home cut down Matt Holliday at the plate for the final out of the inning.
Jimenez’s return to the rotation was certainly eased by an offense that gave him a 5-2 lead in the third. And the Orioles just kept piling on.
After homering six times 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 period.
Nelson Cruz homered in the third, and Delmon Young added one in the fifth. Cruz has 30 homers and 20 doubles, the 18th time an Oriole has done that in modern franchise history. He is the 19th Oriole to hit 30 homers in a season.