Allow me to clarify. Remembering that the Orioles make a few ex-players available for autographs along the Eutaw Street concourse prior to Monday and Thursday games, I wandered over that way with my sister once we got through the gates yesterday evening. Sure enough, there he was: Larry "31 homers in 1987" Sheets, alongside mid-'70s infielder and Baltimore native Tim Nordbrook and outfielder Fred Valentine, who had three separate stints with the O's in 1959, 1963, and 1968. Since there was still over an hour before first pitch, I waited in line to collect signatures from the trio. Larry looks pretty good for 54, much better than Cal Ripken, if we're being brutally honest. I was a little sorry to see that he'd lost the trademark mustache, but you can't fault a guy for keeping his look fresh. A group of older guys passing by called out to Nordbrook to invite him out for drinks after the game, and he playfully asked if they wanted his autograph. When they responded in the affirmative, Tim yelled, "Get in line!". Valentine was moving more slowly than the two younger ex-players, but his signature was meticulous and clear, so it was a fair trade.
On yet another in a series of the moderate nights that have made this an atypical summer in Baltimore, the Birds seemed glad to be home, even if the crowd was on the small side (15,516 paid, though several of them must have stayed home). Chris Tillman looked sharp right from the start, generating weak grounders all over the infield. Steve Pearce and Jonathan Schoop each dropped a throw from J. J. Hardy on consecutive plays in the third inning, giving Tampa Bay a very short-lived 1-0 lead. But you can't keep a power-hitting team like the Orioles dormant forever, and the breakout came in the bottom of the third. Nick Markakis ended an 0-for-21 skid with a two-run homer to put the O's on top, and Steve Pearce immediately followed with a moon shot to left field. 3-1 Birds on back-to-back home runs against Jake Odorizzi.
The real fun came two innings later, as things got really out of hand in a good way for the hosts. The inning opened with three straight singles by the law firm of Pearce, Jones, and Cruz. After an initial hesitation, Pearce rumbled around third base and scored on Cruz's knock to left, as Rays left fielder Matt Joyce bobbled the ball. I had noticed Steve and Joyce conversing in the outfield during pregame warmups, and my idle theory was that the Oriole slugger was subtly intimidating his contemporary. It sure looked like it on that play. Anyhow, back-to-back-to-back singles are all well and good, but how about back-to-back-to-back home runs? I can tell you first-hand that they're pretty great. Delmon Young continued his baffling rejuvenation with an Earl Weaver Special over the left-center field fence, making it 7-1, and J. J. Hardy chased Odorizzi with a solo shot in the next at-bat. Chris Davis, who probably would've liked to take some hacks against the unraveled starter, rallied to welcome reliever Kirby Yates with a solo four-bagger of his own. It was 9-1, and there were still no outs. Nick Hundley made it seven hits in a row with an infield single and a one-base error by first baseman James Loney, but Yates stopped the bleeding there. Still, the Orioles had made team history by stacking back-to-back homers AND a separate occurrence of back-to-back-to-back home runs for the first time in their 60-plus seasons in Baltimore.
The rest of the game was less eventful. Tillman earned his 11th win with seven innings of three-hit ball, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton were untouchable as usual, and the Birds maintained their six-game division lead. Oh wait - there was a pretty decent double play turned by Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop. You might see this one on highlight reels for a little while yet.