BALTIMORE -- If the shirt fits, wear it.
Wade Miley walked into the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse at Camden Yards on Thursday afternoon, sporting an Army green T-shirt that read: "First Pitch Strikes -- Get Ahead in Life." Then the Orioles lefty went out and lived it, allowing just one walk in seven strong innings to lead Baltimore to a 7-5 win over the Boston Red Sox in the opener of a key American League East showdown.
Miley entered Thursday's game with major command problems. He had issued 31 free passes, most in the majors, and his 55 percent strike rate on first pitches was the third lowest in the league. Over his previous three outings, things had gotten even worse, as he was starting hitters off with a strike just 44 percent of the time. Against Boston, he found the zone on 58 percent of his initial offerings, his highest rate since April. Besides starting hitters off the right way, he also started the game off right, throwing just nine pitches during a 1-2-3 first inning. He wasn't the only one who got ahead early.
Slumping superstar Manny Machado singled in the bottom of the first to snap an 0-for-18 skid, then scored on a two-run homer by cleanup hitter Mark Trumbo, who had been 0-for-14 lifetime against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez. It marked just the fourth time in the past 20 games that Baltimore (5-14 in its previous 19 contests) jumped out to a lead in the opening frame.
"We jumped on them pretty early and then we kept applying pressure," said Miley after the game, dressed in the same shirt he wore pregame, one of about 30 baseball-themed tees that he says his wife has bought for him online. "Makes it a little bit easier when you've got a little support like that. Then you can just kind of go in there and pound the zone and we were able to get outs."
They were also able to get runs -- plenty of them.
A day after hanging a 10-spot on the New York Yankees in a series-clinching victory, Baltimore put up seven against the Red Sox. Seemingly tired of all the beanball drama that pervaded their previous two series against Boston, Baltimore was content to play home run derby instead, banging out four homers that accounted for all the scoring. All four jacks came off of Rodriguez, the 24-year-old lefty (and former O's prospect) who came in with a 2.77 ERA. Rodriguez had allowed just three bombs all season, and had tossed six shutout innings against the Orioles earlier this season.
"It's a pitcher we struggled with in the past," Trumbo said, "and I think tonight was a good night to make some adjustments on our end and get a few runs."
Trumbo, who was 3-for-4 on the night, is now hitting .429 with six RBIs over his past six games. His is not the only Birds bat that's starting to heat up.
Just a couple days after Memorial Day unofficially ushered in summer, the O's -- whose 56 homers last June set a major-league record for homers in a month -- appear to be up to their old tricks. Outfielder Adam Jones hit his second jack in as many nights since returning from a four-game injury absence. First baseman Chris Davis, showing signs of awakening from his early season slumber, also went deep for the second straight game. Not to be outdone, Jonathan Schoop blasted a 400-foot shot to left field that plated three big insurance runs in the sixth inning.
"The ball was carrying tonight," said skipper Buck Showalter, who's club moved to within a half-game of second place Boston. The win also upped Baltimore's record against the AL East to 20-11, by far the best mark in the division.
"Sure," Miley said when asked if his team gets especially amped against divisional rivals. "Obviously, you want to get up for every game, but yeah, these are extra important." For now, Miley's just worried about doing his part. Even if it means busting out the same shirt next time it's his turn to take the mound.
"It just so happened to be the one I grabbed this morning," he said. "But maybe I'll start wearing it every five days."