"We're a little better ball club than we were last year. There's no question about it," added Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. "If our pitching continues to pitch the way they have -- especially the bullpen if our starters can get us going -- we feel like we have a better lineup and better pitching. We should play a little better."
Baltimore (9-7) came back from two separate two-run deficits -- one early and one late. The final three runs all came against Toronto's bullpen, erasing a strong night at the office by starter A.J. Burnett. Relievers Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen and Victor Zambrano combined to get four outs, but they gave up four hits and three runs.
The Orioles went into the eighth inning down by two runs, but they pushed runners to second and third with one out. Baltimore got within one run on a sacrifice fly, and designated hitter Kevin Millar worked the count full against Janssen. One moment later, the game was tied, courtesy of a dying bloop single pushed out to short left field.
"After that base hit, I knew we were going to win the game," said third baseman Melvin Mora, who homered early in the game and walked right before Markakis came through with the game-winning hit. "You have to see the attitude we have in the clubhouse and the attitude we have in the dugout. It's amazing.
"We have to continue [to keep] that same attitude no matter what happens out there. We need to stick together."
Baltimore made its first rally hold up by putting together a second one against Toronto's depleted relief staff. The Blue Jays (8-8) didn't have injured closer B.J. Ryan and didn't want to use beleaguered replacement Jason Frasor in a tie game on the road. That left Zambrano, an erstwhile starter who gave up a lead off single in the ninth.
Center fielder Corey Patterson came through with that hit, and backup catcher Paul Bako bunted him over to second base. Toronto elected to intentionally walk Brian Roberts, and Mora drew a walk of his own to load the bases. The Blue Jays called the infield and outfield in, but Markakis punched a hit through second base to win the game.
"It's definitely a pressure situation. I was trying to put that in the back of my mind. Get up there and be comfortable and put a good swing on it," he said. "I knew they were going to bring the infield in [with the] bases loaded. My mindset was [to] hit the ball back up the middle or hit a fly ball, and that happened."
"I think these guys realize we have a shot at holding it down if we can just score," Perlozzo said. "We weren't getting any hits -- their guy was throwing pretty good against us -- but they batted and battled and got a couple big hits."
Burnett held the Orioles to three hits in seven innings and never trailed. Baltimore's first two hits came in the fourth inning, when Roberts singled and Mora hit his fourth home run of the season. Burnett only allowed one more hit and escaped a jam with two runners on base in the sixth inning to leave with a two-run cushion.
"I'm glad he left that pitch right there for me. I crushed it," Mora said of his home run. "It makes me happy and makes our club happy to beat a guy like Burnett. I think that's one of the best pitchers in baseball."
Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera was strong in the early innings and didn't walk anyone until the seventh. That inning almost turned the game, though, allowing Toronto to take a 4-2 lead. Cabrera walked the first batter and walked another with two outs to load the bases, setting up a key confrontation with pinch-hitter Vernon Wells.
The Orioles relieved Cabrera and went to left-handed reliever John Parrish, which made Wells a no-brainer option for Toronto manager John Gibbons. Sure enough, a few moments later, Wells hit a hard two-hopper to third base. Mora dove left with his arm extended, but the ball skipped off his glove and away from shortstop Miguel Tejada.
In all, Cabrera walked just two batters and has three walks in his last three starts. That's saying quite a bit for a pitcher best known for leading the American League in walks (104) and wild pitches (17) last season.
"I think he's getting much better at it," Perlozzo said. "He went through Spring Training and threw the ball really well. I think he just got a little bit tired there at the end. ... He's maturing as we go, and that's a good sign."
"I got us seven innings. I think that's my job -- trying to take the game close to the setup man and the closer," added Cabrera, who threw 66 of his 109 pitches for strikes. "It's big for me and big for the whole team. Right now, we don't look at how well you're pitching. We notice the wins. That's what counts. The more you win, the better you can be."