Cleveland, OH – It appears as though the Baltimore Orioles are quite serious about staying in the AL wild card race.
At the same time, it appears as though the Cleveland Indians aren't.
Zach Britton threw six shutout innings in only his second start of the year, and the Orioles hung on to sweep the Indians with a 4-3 victory at Progressive Field.
Britton (1-0) notched his first win since his up-and-down rookie campaign of 2011, when he won five of his first six games before faltering down the stretch. On Sunday, he limited the offensively-challenged Indians to four hits and two walks, helping Baltimore to its fifth straight victory to tie a season-high.
J.J. Hardy homered and drove in three runs while Wilson Betemit added a home run for Baltimore, which is among the three teams within a game of each other for the second and final AL wild card spot (Chicago, Oakland).
The Indians, meanwhile, can't seem to call upon the offense that helped them stay above .500 for the first half of the season, losing their fourth straight and failing to get more than three runs for the eighth time in 10 games since the All-Star break (3-7).
After managing only three late runs on Sunday, including a Carlos Santana two- run homer, Cleveland is below .500 (47-48) for the first time since April 14.
"We need to figure out something to get us going," admitted Indians catcher Lou Marson. "I don't know what it is, but we definitely have to figure something out."
The Indians nearly snapped out of it, but it was a little too late in the ninth, when they trailed by four.
With Luis Ayala on after two perfect innings, Michael Brantley hit a one-out single and scored on Santana's blast to make it a 4-2 contest. Jim Johnson came on to save the game and immediately allowed a double to Shelley Duncan, who scored to make it a one-run game on Travis Hafner's pinch-single
Johnny Damon flied out before Shin-Soo Choo drew a walk to put the tying run in scoring position. Asdrubal Cabrera, though, struck out to have the rally come up just short.
"You gotta trust yourself," remarked Johnson. "I felt like I had a better opportunity to get Cabrera for the last out than I did Choo."
Josh Tomlin (5-7) took the loss after allowing only two runs and eight hits in six innings.
Tomlin's first-inning woes continued to plague him, allowing two more runs in the opening inning Sunday on a Hardy two-run blast. It now gives him 19 runs allowed in the first inning of his 15 starts -- an ERA of 11.40.
Meanwhile, Cleveland continued its offensive futility. The Indians didn't get a runner to third until the sixth, when they loaded the bases with two outs. Carlos Santana, however, looked at five straight pitches, the fifth of which was a called strike three.
The Orioles added some needed insurance in the seventh on Hardy's RBI single and in the eighth on Betemit's home run.
The Orioles won the season series, 4-3...Baltimore's last five-game winning streak came from June 9-14...The Orioles have now reached 50 wins this early in the season for the first time since 2005...Baltimore is 38-0 when leading after seven innings, joining Pittsburgh (47-0) as the only two major league teams to remain undefeated in those situations...The Orioles have posted five straight quality starts for the first time since April 28-May 2...Johnson picked up his 30th save.