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Hardy’s blast makes winner of Britton

August 22, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Had it not been for a fan wearing a Joe Mauer jersey, J.J. Hardy likely would have been out, and Twins starter Carl Pavano could have gotten out of the inning with the game still tied.

Hardy got a second chance, instead, and he took advantage of it, crushing a 2-2 fastball from Pavano to left for a go-ahead homer in the fifth inning of a 4-1 Orioles win over the Twins on Monday night at Target Field.

“Was it a Mauer fan?” Hardy asked. “Somebody was saying he was wearing a Hardy jersey.”

Hardy’s solo home run, his 24th of the season, made for a happy homecoming for the former Twins shortstop and helped lefty Zach Britton and the Orioles pick up the much-needed victory.

Baltimore snapped a five-game losing streak and Britton snapped a five-decision skid of his own, earning his first win since June 8 against Oakland.

“I think it was bigger for the team, more so than me,” Britton said. “Obviously it’s good to get the win, but I think we needed it. The way we played in Anaheim, to be able to come out and get the first win, the first day here, I think it sets the tone for the next three games.”

Britton had some long innings — he allowed at least one baserunner in each of his five frames — and saw his pitch count rise to 98, but he was otherwise solid in his first start since Aug. 4.

After going on the disabled list Aug. 5 with a left shoulder strain, Britton was activated before the game and went five innings, allowing one run on six hits and four walks with four strikeouts.

“It’s just one of those days, I’m so excited to be back and I’m overthrowing everything,” Britton said. “I didn’t really have great command, so my mindset was like, ‘Here it is.’ I’m going to make them beat me with my stuff. I’m going to throw it over the plate because I know I can’t hit corners right now.”

Britton got big outs to end the third and fifth innings, both of which came with Jim Thome at the plate and runners in scoring position.

In the third, with a run already having scored, Britton walked consecutive batters to load the bases for Thome. Britton threw a 1-1 fastball and Thome ripped it to left, but it stayed in the park and was caught for the final out.

“It was big,” Britton said. “Any time you can get out of those situations — especially with a close game, and especially coming back my first day, having some bad outings recently — to be able to get out of there where I haven’t been able to in the past was pretty big.”

Britton then struck Thome out looking, stranding a pair of runners in the fifth.

“He was right at the limit there and he was going to be real mad at having to come out at 4 2/3 if he walked Thome there,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “But he made a big pitch there to get out of it, and I’m proud of him.”

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters added another solo blast in the sixth, his 13th of the year, and Nick Markakis drove in Hardy from first with a one-out double in the seventh for a final insurance run.

The Twins scored their only run off Britton in the third when Ben Revere singled with one out and later came around on a Mauer groundout.

Revere made a highlight-reel grab to end the seventh when he raced back to make a leaping, over-the-shoulder catch at the wall in center field, robbing Vladimir Guerrero of an extra-base hit and keeping a run off the board.

“It was unbelievable,” Hardy said. “That was as good as Adam Jones’ catch in Seattle.”

Right-hander Chris Jakubauskas relieved Britton to start the sixth, and retired the first five Twins he faced. Jakubauskas combined with lefty Michael Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg to hold the Twins scoreless with just two hits over the final four innings.

“The kid threw the ball very well against us,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was ejected in the eighth for arguing balls and strikes. “Their bullpen came in and changed speeds and threw some curveballs. I think at one point I looked up and saw we had eight guys left on base, and that tells you the whole story.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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