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SEA@BAL: McLouth crushes a grand slam in sixth inning

BALTIMORE -- Orioles bench coach John Russell teased Nate McLouth after the left fielder's grand slam busted open a game for the Orioles. McLouth has 95 career home runs, but Friday's shot was his first grand slam.

"It's about time," Russell told him.

Russell didn't mean it like this, but his playful taunt could also be said of the Orioles offense re-asserting itself as elite: It's about time. This offense was too good for too long through the first two-thirds of the season to scuffle indefinitely.

McLouth's blast underscored a big offensive performance by the Orioles, who claimed the first of a three-game set at Camden Yards with an 11-8 slugfest win over the Mariners. Tampa Bay and Boston both lost Friday, so the Orioles picked up a game in the American League East standings, and are now 4 1/2 behind the first-place Red Sox.

Perhaps more important, the bats appear to be back to firing on all cylinders. Stuck in neutral for the final eight games in July, the Orioles' offense continued to press the accelerator Friday and put their recent slump further and further in the rear-view mirror.

"You try to fight the feeling of frustration when collectively you're not swinging the bats. It's kind of natural to want to do too much at the plate," McLouth said, and added that homer-friendly Camden Yards is a big reason the team relies on the long ball so frequently. "But we were able to get a bunch of guys on base. We scored 11 runs and I think only left three on base."

The Orioles lead the Majors by a wide margin in total home runs, with 146. They entered Friday's contest with 13 more than the next most homer-happy club.

"It is an important part of our offense," McLouth later added. "But what's more important is getting guys on in front of the homers."

Chris Davis also added his 40th home run, a rare feat for Orioles sluggers, and Ryan Flaherty added a solo shot as part of a big night at the plate filling in for Brian Roberts. Adam Jones chipped in three RBIs in the total team effort. The hot-hitting Matt Wieters, who went 0-for-3 and drove in a run on a sacrifice fly in the first, was the only Orioles hitter to not score at least one run Friday.

The outburst was a good sign for the team going forward, but it was also critical Friday, because Chris Tillman turned in a rare poor performance. The righty, who improved to 14-3 based largely on the offensive support, lasted just 5 1/3 innings and gave up six earned runs on eight hits, including two homers.

"A little bit of everything," Tillman said of what went wrong for him. "I missed early, got out of whack a little bit and struggled to get back in. [Making adjustments] is something I've been proud of doing and it just wasn't there tonight. I couldn't get back in rhythm, couldn't get back in sync. I struggled with all my pitches."

Tillman has led the pitching staff nearly all season. And while the rotation has been fortified with the additions of Scott Feldman and Bud Norris and the return of Wei-Yin Chen from the disabled list, this team's identity through the first 100 games was its offense and, specifically, its home run prowess.

The Orioles offense was missing recently, though, as it averaged just a tick more than three runs per game for the final eight games of July. But apparently when the calendar flipped to August, the Orioles flipped a switch. They scored six runs in the series finale with the Astros on Thursday before Friday's output.

"It's part of our offense. But it's a part of every Major League team's offense for the most part," manager Buck Showalter said. "We just have some guys who are capable of doing that who are also good defenders. I think that's the difference. The days that doesn't happen, they can impact the game with their gloves."

The Orioles jumped out to an early lead in front of an announced crowd of 25,947. The first four batters of the game reached, and three scored on Jones' bases-clearing double. But Tillman struggled in the third, when he issued a leadoff walk and Michael Saunders tagged him for a two-run homer. Tillman walked two more batters in the inning and one of them scored on Kendrys Morales' RBI single, which cut the Orioles' lead to 4-3.

Davis answered loudly in the next half inning. With two outs, Davis crushed a 1-0 low fastball deep to right field. His 40th of the season was also his fourth career Eutaw Street homer. His 101st RBI put the Orioles up, 5-3, to give Tillman a little breathing room.

It also put the slugger in some elite company in Orioles history. Only Brady Anderson (50 homers in 1996), Frank Robinson (49 in '66), Jim Gentile (46 in '61) and Rafael Palmeiro (43 in '98) have hit more homers in a season than Davis while wearing an Orioles uniform.

"It's pretty good company to be in. I'm proud of the way things are going this year," Davis said. "Still got a lot more work to do, but it's nice to be a big part of a winning team."

A reporter listed those names for Showalter after the game, and around Baltimore, only Gentile needed his last name attached to instantly identify him.

"Notice the first three you called by their first name and everybody knew who you were talking about," Showalter pointed out. "Maybe one day they'll say 'Chris' and we'll know who you're talking about."

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