After a wacky stretch in which Baltimore twice turned potential pickoffs into stolen bases, Hammel and the Orioles were on their way to an 8-2 rout of the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
Hammel pitched six shutout innings, much to the delight of a crowd of 28,954. The throng included nearly 11,000 walk-up fans, a testament to the excitement the first-place Orioles have generated after a run of 14 straight losing seasons.
"Outstanding crowd tonight," Hammel said. "If they are backing us, we are going to feel even better about ourselves. It's been fun to see the stands filling up now. We want to just continue to play good baseball for them."
Chris Davis homered and drove in three runs for the Orioles, now 28-11 when hitting a home run. Davis hit Baltimore's league-leading 70th homer of the season in the seventh inning with a man on to make it 8-0.
The game turned two innings earlier, however, because of the Royals' inability to complete a relay from first base to second following a pickoff throw.
With Baltimore up 1-0, Xavier Avery led off the fifth with a walk and broke for second as starter Bruce Chen threw to first. Avery reached second before the throw from first baseman Eric Hosmer, and Robert Andino followed with a perfectly placed bunt to put runners on the corners. This time it was Andino who took off for second as Chen threw to first. Andino avoided the tag.
"It's by design," Orioles manager Buck Showalter deadpanned.
"On the first one, he just outran it," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "He got such a good jump that the throw had to be about perfect. On the second one, we had an opportunity."
Baltimore took full advantage. J.J. Hardy hit a two-run double and Nick Markakis doubled in a run before Adam Jones chased Chen with an RBI single. With two outs, Jones stole second and scored on a single by Davis.
In the top of the fifth, Hammel retired the side after the Royals got runners on second and third with one out. So watching Baltimore blow the game open was quite a relief for the right-hander.
"It was huge turning point," Hammel said.
After that, the Royals went quietly.
"They really took advantage of their opportunities in that fifth inning," Kansas City's Jeff Francoeur said. "Missing those two tags obviously hurt."
Part of the excitement in the ballpark centered around Jones, who appears to be closing in on a multi-year contract extension. Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning and stretched his career-high hitting streak to 16 games with an RBI single in a five-run fifth.
Hammel (6-1) gave up five hits, walked one and struck out seven. Obtained in an offseason trade with Colorado, Hammel is one big reason why Baltimore (29-17) owns the best record in the AL.
"I think he's throwing harder than I've seen in the past," KC's Billy Butler said. "He was hitting 94-95 consistently and touched 96 a few times. He's throwing well."
Francoeur had three hits, including an eighth-inning homer off Stu Pomeranz. Francoeur is 11 for 21 in his last five games.
Chen (3-5) gave up six runs and seven hits in four-plus innings. The left-hander had won each of his previous three starts.
Asked about the ill-fated pickoff throws, Chen said, "I can't do anything about it. Yes, it would have been huge to get those two outs. I have to keep guys off base."
Baltimore loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but got only one run, on a sacrifice fly by Jones.
The Royals missed a chance to draw even in the second. With one out and Francoeur on third, the Orioles moved the infield in and got the desired result -- a grounder to second baseman Andino, who threw out Francoeur at the plate.
One inning later, the Royals again had runners at second and third with one out. Hammel struck out Hosmer before Butler hit a rising liner to shortstop that Hardy leaped to grab.
The Orioles designated OF Bill Hall for assignment, recalled Pomeranz and C Ronny Paulino from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned C Luis Exposito to the same minor league club. ... KC RHP Blake Wood underwent successful elbow ligament replacement surgery Thursday. LHP Danny Duffy is due to have Tommy John surgery on Thursday, Yost said. ... Orioles 3B Mark Reynolds and LF Endy Chavez, who are both sidelined with left oblique injuries, are slated to begin their minor league rehabilitation assignments with Double-A Bowie on Saturday.