SEATTLE — Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning and the Baltimore Orioles won their 15th straight extra-innings game with a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
A night after the teams played an 18-inning marathon that lasted nearly 6 hours, Jones, the one-time Mariners prospect, gave Baltimore a huge boost in its race with the Yankees for the lead in the A.L. East. Even with New York sweeping a doubleheader from Toronto on Wednesday, the Orioles stayed just a half-game back in the division race. Additionally, the Orioles moved into the top spot in the A.L. wild-card race after Oakland was handed a 6-2 loss in Detroit.
Jones’ turned on a 3-2 pitch from Seattle’s Josh Kinney (0-3) and sent his 30th homer into the Baltimore bullpen in left field.
Jim Johnson pitched the bottom of the 11th for his major league-leading 45th save. It wasn’t a basic save, though, as Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero started the inning with singles. Johnson quickly rebounded to get Justin Smoak to ground into a 3-6-1 double play.
Michael Saunders walked, but was caught stealing by Taylor Teagarden trying to get into scoring position while pinch-hitter John Jaso never got the bat off his shoulder for the final out.
Baltimore was only able to reach the 11th thanks to Luis Ayala’s pitching in the bottom of the 10th. Seattle loaded the bases with two outs thanks to walks to Saunders, Trayvon Robinson and Dustin Ackley. Ayala (5-4) was brought in to face Franklin Gutierrez, who hit his fourth homer of the season in the fourth inning to account for Seattle’s only run. Gutierrez was able to work the count to 3-2, but Ayala came inside and forced a weak pop up to shortstop to end Seattle’s best scoring threat.
Nate McLouth singled with one out in the 11th ahead of Jones’ homer. It was his third career homer against the franchise that drafted the talented center fielder, and then traded him to the Orioles as part of a massive deal that brought pitcher Erik Bedard to Seattle.
Lost in the extra inning drama were the performances of starting pitchers Joe Saunders and Felix Hernandez on a night both teams needed a break for their bullpens.
Hernandez perhaps re-ignited his A..L Cy Young chances by throwing eight innings, giving up just one run, six hits and striking out eight. But he couldn’t snap his three-game losing streak thanks to the no-decision. It was the sixth time this season Hernandez has pitched at least seven innings and given up one or none earned runs, but come away with a no-decision. It was his 12th start overall pitching at least eight innings with one earned run or less, the most in the majors.
The only run Baltimore got off Hernandez was due to hustle. Chris Davis was running on a 3-2 pitch and scored from first on Mark Reynolds’ single in the fourth inning, sliding across home plate ahead of Jesus Montero’s sweep tag.
Saunders was the perfect option for the Orioles to have on the mound considering his past success against the Mariners in Seattle. In his previous six starts at Safeco Field, Saunders was 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA. It was just the recipe Baltimore needed with a taxed bullpen that saw seven relievers work in Tuesday night’s game.
Saunders did his part getting through eight innings. He gave up five hits and struck out two. It was just the second time this season — and first since joining the Orioles in August — that Saunders pitched at least eight innings. He had a complete game three-hitter for Arizona against Miami in April.
The one mistake Saunders made came in the fourth and snapped Seattle’s 17 straight innings without a run when Gutierrez homered to left-center. It was his first homer since Sept. 4 against Boston.