MINNEAPOLIS — Baltimore Orioles Manager Buck Showalter calls the month after the All-Star break the true dog days of summer. It’s the critical time of the baseball season when the game is a matter of survival through injuries and fatigue, the time when contenders distance themselves from pretenders.
And these Orioles, far from seasoned when it comes to playing meaningful games in the second half of the season, have struggled.
Showalter often talks about riding through the peaks and valleys of a 162-game schedule and doing everything possible to extend the peaks and shorten the valleys. And the depths of losing have become all too common during the past month.
But Baltimore found a way to carry the momentum from Wednesday’s morale-boosting, one-run win into a 4-3 come-from-behind victory in Thursday’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
After struggling throughout the afternoon with runners on base, Mark Reynolds broke through with a two-run, two-out single in the eighth inning off Anthony Swarzak to give the Orioles a split in the four-game series.
It was Baltimore’s eighth win of the season when trailing after seven innings.
“It’s that time of year,” Showalter said. “We’ve won a lot of games like the games we won the last two days. I think we will get crisper as it goes on.”
A split in the series seemed unlikely after the Orioles dropped the first two games in ugly fashion. Baltimore lost, 19-7, Monday and blew a three-run lead in Tuesday’s loss, with both games characterized by disappointing performances by the starting pitchers.
“We’ve had a tough run lately, but to get the last two games here and to come from behind today [was important],” Reynolds said. “It gives us a little momentum going forward. Just keep playing better baseball. You win one game, it can be good. It’s kind of a morale thing, and it’s just a good way to end this series and get out of here.”
It is just the second time in the past month that the Orioles (48-44) have won back-to-back games, the other time being July 3 and 4 in Seattle.
That was also the last time before Thursday’s game that Baltimore received consecutive starts of seven or more innings. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen allowed three runs on six hits over seven innings a day after right-hander Tommy Hunter held Minnesota to one run over 71 / 3 innings in a 2-1 victory.
Chen, who was 0-3 with 5.02 ERA in his previous five starts, earned his first victory since he pitched seven scoreless innings in a 2-0 win June 17 in Atlanta.
“As a starter, I really want to go deep,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “Today I’m very excited I could help the team win. Every game is important to me, because I’m a rookie and this is my first year. It’s all about getting experience. I want to help the team win. That’s really important for me.”
After yielding two runs in the first inning on RBI singles by Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe, Chen allowed just three hits during the next six innings.
“The first inning I tried to pitch too cautious,” Chen said. “I struggled a little bit. After the first inning, I tried to be level with them. I kept trying to pitch strong and hard.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles’ offense struggled to manufacture runs. Before Reynolds’s key hit, Baltimore batters were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position for the day and 1-for-18 during the past three games.
Reynolds fought off a 92-mph fastball from Swarzak and looped it into shallow center field, just in front of Denard Span. It drove in Matt Wieters and Wilson Betemit — who had reached on walks — to put the Orioles in front.
“I think my bat is 34 inches, and I used all of it. It got in on me a lot,” Reynolds said. “I had been pulling off pitches all day, and I was getting a little frustrated with it. I went up there trying to stay inside on the ball and telling myself, ‘You don’t need a homer, you need a single.’”
Baltimore stranded runners at first and second in the first and third innings. They couldn’t take advantage of a leadoff walk in the fourth. And with the bases loaded in the seventh, designated hitter Jim Thome grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Earlier that inning, the Orioles cut the lead to 3-2 when — with runners at second and third and one out — Nick Markakis hit a ball to third and Plouffe threw high to catcher Joe Mauer, enabling Chris Davis to score.
Davis accounted for the other Orioles run, hitting his 15th homer of the season to right field in the second inning.
Twins right-hander Cole De Vries, who allowed seven earned runs and three homers in five innings in his previous start Saturday, held the Orioles to one run in six innings.
Reliever Pedro Strop preserved Baltimore’s 4-3 lead in the eighth. Entering with runners on first and second and no outs, he got Plouffe to pop up in foul ground behind third, induced a force at second off the bat of Darin Mastroianni and got Brian Dozier on a fly ball to center field.
“It was a tough situation, like every eighth inning,” Strop said. “My mind-set was just on getting the first out, because I know I get a lot of ground balls. I knew if I got the first out, I could get a ground ball and get out quick as possible.”
Jim Johnson earned his 28th save with a perfect ninth, giving the Orioles their seventh straight win in a one-run game. Baltimore is 18-6 in one-run games this season.