CLEVELAND -- The Orioles know that if they want to remain in the playoff race, they have to capitalize when the opposition makes mistakes.
Baltimore has sometimes struggled to do that in recent weeks, but when such opportunities presented themselves on Friday night, the Orioles made the most of them. The Orioles rocked struggling pitcher Derek Lowe for nine runs in the first four innings, and they cruised to a 10-2 win over the Indians in the first game of a four-game series at Progressive Field. It was Baltimore's third consecutive win after dropping 17 of its previous 24 games.
The Orioles wasted little time getting to Lowe. They jumped on top, 1-0, in the first inning when J.J. Hardy scored on a wild pitch. Even though it was Lowe's only wild pitch of the game, it was a sign of things to come.
Lowe struggled to find the strike zone, and the Orioles waited patiently for pitches to hit. When Lowe left pitches up, they made him pay.
"We were fortunate that we scored some runs," said designated hitter Jim Thome, who went 3-for-4 with a home run in his return to Cleveland. "Lowe can be a guy that I think you have to do that on. Once he gets settled in, he can be very good. He's got good stuff, and we were fortunate that we got some pitches to hit and capitalized on it."
After squandering a situation in the second in which they put runners on second and third with nobody out and failed to score, the Orioles took advantage of nearly every run-scoring opportunity the rest of the game. They scored six runs in the third inning on three doubles and a home run, and they chased Lowe with no outs in the fourth after Thome homered and Adam Jones walked. Lowe struggled, and the Orioles didn't let him off the hook.
"I really have nothing to say," said Lowe, who is 2-6 with an 8.31 ERA in his last 10 starts. "The game speaks for itself. It was an embarrassing game. I have a lot of work to do. You look at the way I started, and the last six weeks, it couldn't be any different. It's embarrassing, frustrating, all of the above."
The Orioles had nine total extra-base hits, and eight different Orioles players contributed at least one. First baseman Mark Reynolds had a two-run double in the decisive third inning, and No. 9 hitter Ryan Flaherty smacked a three-run homer into the right-field bleachers later in the frame. Catcher Matt Wieters and right fielder Chris Davis also each had an RBI for the Orioles.
The run support seemed to settle Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez, who was a little shaky early. Gonzalez gave up a first-inning solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera, and then faced a bases-loaded situation in the inning when he walked Carlos Santana and hit Travis Hafner with a pitch. But Gonzalez worked out of it, and he was barely threatened again.
"I settled down after that," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, who improved to 2-1 with the win, allowed only two runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings. After needing 24 pitches to get out of the first inning, Gonzalez threw only 90 during the next 5 2/3 frames, facing the minimum number of batters in a frame four times. The only other blemish came in the seventh when he allowed a solo home run to Jack Hannahan.
Even as the Orioles' lead grew, Gonzalez's mindset remained the same. It's taken him a long time to find the rotation, and his spot is certainly not secure.
"When you come from where Miguel has come from to get on the page," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, "he's not going to assume or take anything for granted. He's going to take advantage of every opportunity. He's not gonna all of a sudden start pumping fastballs down the middle."
Against an Indians lineup that featured nine left-handed hitters, Gonzalez went to his split-changeup and worked inside to keep them off balance. He also walked only two batters, a marked improvement from the five walks he surrendered in his last start against Detroit. With a starting rotation that has struggled and seems to change by the week, Gonzalez has been a breath of fresh air for the Orioles.
"When you've got nine left-handed hitters in the lineup, you're gonna have to do something other than throw a fastball," Showalter said. "Once he got through the first inning, he kind of got his feet on the ground. ... I'm proud of him."
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.