"Our lineup is really clicking," added Kevin Millar, who also had two hits in the eighth. "With the lefties swinging the bat, with [Nick] Markakis and [Aubrey] Huff and obviously [Melvin] Mora have been doing a great job, it's basically, 'Pick your poison.' It's a very balanced lineup, a very solid lineup without the big names. One through nine, it's done a great job."
The Orioles and Indians both scored twice in the first inning and then settled in for a long and drawn-out stalemate. Both teams had several opportunities in the middle innings and could only convert once, crafting a compelling 3-3 endgame. Baltimore (58-62) had even been turned away in the sixth, courtesy of a double-play ball with runners at first and third.
But there was no denying the O's in the eighth, even with the bottom of the order coming up. Millar started the rally -- which wound up tying Baltimore's highest-scoring inning of the season -- with a single. Center fielder Jay Payton followed with a ball to third base that resulted in an error, pushing two runners on base and setting the stage for Montanez.
The outfielder thought his manager might ask him to bunt, but that was never in Dave Trembley's mind. Montanez got the order to swing away and pounded an offering from Rafael Perez into the gap in right-center. Mora and Millar delivered run-scoring hits later on in the inning, and catcher Ramon Hernandez drew a bases-loaded walk to keep things going.
"What I expect is we're going to find a way to manufacture some runs," Trembley said. "I think you saw tonight, we won't just rely on letting guys swing. I'll put guys in motion, we'll hit and run, I'll let guys hit [in] 3-0 [counts]."
It even came all the way back around to Montanez, who singled off Edward Mujica for the final run. The Indians (54-66) would later respond with a three-run rally of their own, but Montanez had a key hand in knocking them out. Eight days ago, the 26-year-old had become the second Orioles player to homer in his first at-bat, and he said it's been a crazy week.
"It's been a complete whirlwind," said Montanez, who spent eight years in the Minors. "I've gone from the West Coast to the East Coast, from Double-A to the big leagues. I'm trying to take it all in. It's been absolutely outstanding."
"He's swinging at strikes," said Trembley, who managed Montanez in the Class A Florida State League in 2002. "He's shown patience, he's swinging at strikes, he's hitting the ball hard the other way. He's gotten some big hits for us."
The Orioles scored two runs on three hits and an error in the first inning before squandering several opportunities. Baltimore stranded two runners on base in the second and one each in the third and fourth before scoring again in the fifth. Millar had the go-ahead hit in that rally, and it came on a ball that center fielder Grady Sizemore lost in the lights.
And on top of that, the Orioles also made some big pitches Thursday night. Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera gave up two runs in the first on a two-run double by Shin-Soo Choo and later used the ground ball to his advantage. Cabrera got double plays in the second inning and in the fifth before allowing a run and exiting the game with two men on in the sixth.
"With runners on base, I try to make a good pitch and get a ground ball," said Cabrera. "The team won, and every time the team wins, I'm happy -- even if I don't get a win. It was good because we lost the first two games and Jeremy [Guthrie] did a great job last night. I came in today and kept the game close and gave us a chance to win."
Cleveland loaded the bases in the sixth, but Rocky Cherry came in to strike out Choo to end the threat. The Indians didn't get rolling again until the ninth, when they peppered Alberto Castillo for four hits and a walk. The southpaw finally escaped the inning with two men on base, and Trembley said he was close to summoning closer George Sherrill.
"One more hitter and Sherrill is going to be in there," he said. "I brought [Jim] Johnson in to stop it in the eighth after we scored, which he did. Then Castillo's got a big lead. They got nothing to lose, so they're swinging, and he didn't locate."