BALTIMORE: Wouldn’t it be easy to manage a team whose entire lineup was on fire?
But that rarely happens. It’s not often when even six hitters in the batting order are on a hot streak.
The Indians needed only one guy to lead the way Monday night in their 5-2 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Michael Brantley drove in two runs with a single in the sixth inning, then collected two more RBI on his eighth-inning homer to give the Tribe bullpen a little breathing room.
Not to be critical of the relief corps, but they have had their struggles lately, though not Monday night. Rich Hill, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and finally Vinnie Pestano worked 3⅔ hitless innings, walking one.
Pestano earned his fourth save but again had problems, giving up a walk and a single with two outs before Mike Aviles had to leave his feet to catch Manny Machado’s line drive to shortstop.
“We played a good ballgame,” manager Terry Francona said. “We beat a very good team. They have one of the best lineups we’ve seen all year.”
Orioles starter Zach Britton’s 5.56 ERA probably isn’t an accurate reflection of his pitching acumen. Coming into Monday night’s game, Britton had made only two widely spaced starts. In his second, he held the Tigers to one run in 5⅓ innings, so that tells you a lot about his first outing.
In his rookie year of 2011, Britton led the Orioles with 11 wins, but he was limited to 12 starts in 2012 because of a shoulder impingement. He began this season at Norfolk but pitched his way out of Triple-A with 3.28 ERA.
Maybe all of this explains why the Tribe couldn’t touch him for five innings, as Britton gave up two hits, walked two and hit a batter over that span.
But in the sixth, the Indians suddenly couldn’t make an out against Britton. Jason Kipnis led off with a double and scored on Nick Swisher’s single. Carlos Santana doubled Swisher to third, and after an intentional walk to Mark Reynolds to load the bases, Brantley singled to score two more runs to wipe out the Orioles’ lead.
Brantley had an answer to why the Tribe came out of its shell in the sixth.
“One thing is that the guys were facing Britton for the third time,’’ he said. “We’re major-league hitters. He has to make adjustments.’’
Britton was long gone when Brantley hit his fifth home run of the year after Reynolds led off the eighth with a single. The longball was Brantley’s third in five days and extended the Indians’ lead to three runs.
The ball Brantley hit probably was only 1½ feet off the ground.
“You don’t see many left-handed batters who don’t like the ball down,’’ he said. “That’s no secret.’’
The only time Ubaldo Jimenez got in trouble is when he wasn’t in trouble.
That is, when Jimenez littered the bases with Orioles, he invariably extricated himself from harm.
But with two outs and nobody on in the first inning, he gave up a home run to Nick Markakis, and before he could put himself in danger in the fourth, Matt Wieters led off with a home run.
Despite all of the traffic he allowed, Jimenez felt he was in command of the game.
“That’s how I felt tonight,’’ he said. “I told myself to just relax. Even after the home runs, I was attacking the hitters. Home runs are going to happen. This is a tough lineup and a tough stadium.’’
The O’s loaded the bases with two outs in the second on two walks and a single. One misstep and Jimenez might not have survived into the sixth, but he retired Nate McLouth on a foul pop fly to the infield.
In the third, Jimenez was in a jam again, allowing consecutive singles with one out. But he pitched out of trouble again.
Finally, with one out in the sixth, J.J, Hardy delivered a single on Jimenez’s 99th pitch, and Francona saw fit to go to the bullpen.
The up-and-down performance by Jimenez was mostly up, because the bottom line is that even though he put 10 runners on base (eight hits), only two scored.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.