Orioles 2, Twins 1
Back from the minors, Tommy Hunter needed to re-establish himself on the mound.
All of the Baltimore Orioles needed a pick-me-up, actually, and Adam Jones had just the remedy.
Jones hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Francisco Liriano, and the Orioles hung on to beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1 on Wednesday night.
''We needed this win badly, just as a psyche,'' said Jones, who homered for the second straight game to give him 22 for the season.
''We know we can play good baseball, and we haven't been. It's a testament to always grinding. That's what you have to do.''
Josh Willingham's home run in the fourth was all Minnesota could manage against Hunter (4-4), who returned to Baltimore's stumbling rotation with a solid performance that lasted one out into the eighth inning.
''Hopefully we've got to the top of the hill and we're on that downward slope. It's got to get better at some point,'' Hunter said.
Liriano (3-9) recovered after giving up the ball Jones crushed into the back of the second deck in left field, striking out 10 batters in six innings. His 25 strikeouts over his past two starts are a career best for consecutive outings, and this was only the third time he's posted back-to-back strikeout totals in the double digits.
But Hunter allowed only six hits to the Twins, who scored 25 runs over the first two games of the series and have the second-best batting average in baseball since June 1.
The right-hander struck out just one but didn't walk anybody, giving the bullpen a much-needed break and helping the Orioles win for only the second time in their past eight games.
Jim Johnson shook off his past two shaky appearances to post his 27th save in 29 attempts despite yielding a leadoff single to Trevor Plouffe. Brian Dozier popped a bunt up high enough that first baseman Mark Reynolds raced in for a diving catch for the first out.
With the trade deadline looming at the end of the month, Liriano's contract expiring after the season and another handful of scouts from around the majors in attendance, the left-hander didn't disappoint. He walked three but allowed only four hits, and in 10 starts since returning to the rotation on May 30 he has 77 strikeouts.
The Twins had a bunch of chances to hand him a victory.
Joe Mauer grounded into a double play to end the first inning, and Ben Revere did the same in the third after consecutive singles to start that frame. Hunter helped himself with a slick between-the-legs pick-up of Revere's sharp comebacker.
''Merry Christmas,'' Hunter said. ''When the ball's hit that hard, you just put your glove in a general area and hope it lands inside.''
Revere shook his head.
''It was an off-speed pitch, and I was waiting for it and put a good bat on the ball and it somehow found his glove,'' he said. ''It's the way baseball goes.''
Then in the seventh inning, with two on and one out, Hunter retired the next two batters on pop-ups.
Hunter struck out Jamey Carroll to start the eighth, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought left-hander Troy Patton in with three straight lefties at the top of the lineup.
Denard Span walked, Revere singled and Mauer moved them over with a soft groundout. Willingham was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up Justin Morneau, who bounced out to second base.
''It's no secret that good defense follows around people who throw strikes,'' Showalter said.
Hunter was the third straight starter recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take the mound for the Orioles, following Chris Tillman on Monday and Zach Britton on Tuesday. He's one of nine guys to take a turn this season. Their starting pitching has been in rough shape, with the knee injury to Jason Hammel last week and youngsters Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz sent back to the minors.
Hunter hasn't had much help. In his past 12 starts, spanning his time in Triple-A, the Orioles have scored 34 runs - and 11 of those came on one night. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, in one of the worst slumps of all of them, a 6-for-66 slide and a .165 batting average since June 1, came through with a key single before Jones went deep.
NOTES: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went home with a stomach virus in the fifth inning, and bench coach Scott Ullger took over. ... To make room for Hunter, the Orioles designated RH reliever Brad Bergesen for assignment, one day after he was brought up from Triple-A Norfolk. ... The Orioles will send RH Wei-Yin Chin (7-5, 3.80 ERA), the only member of their opening day rotation still in the group, to the mound for the series finale on Thursday. He'll face RH Cole De Vries (2-2, 4.37 ERA), who gave up seven runs and three homers in five innings in his previous start.