BALTIMORE – J.J. Hardy hit a tiebreaking two-run single in the seventh inning, and the Baltimore Orioles gave away a six-run lead before rebounding to beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-7 Thursday night for a three-game sweep.
After completing a 9-2 homestand against Tampa Bay, Minnesota and the Reds, the AL East-leading Orioles (82-57) are assured a third straight winning season for the first time since 1992-94.
Nelson Cruz hit his major-league leading 37th home run in a six-run first inning, but the Reds chipped away and finally pulled even with a four-run seventh.
Nick Markakis led off the bottom half with a single off Manny Parra (0-2), and Hardy put Baltimore back in front with a bases-loaded single on a 3-1 pitch from Sam LeCure.
Tommy Hunter (3-2) worked 1 1-3 innings and Zach Britton got three outs for his 33rd save.
After watching the Reds get beat 6-0 on Wednesday – their 15th loss in 21 games – Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said he was going to “see what we have in our system.”
His starting lineup contained five September call-ups and first baseman Jack Hannahan, who has no RBIs in 17 games this season.
Devin Mesoraco went 4 for 4, hit his 21st home run and had four RBIs. But the Reds dropped to 66-74, the first time they’ve been eight games under .500 since Oct. 2, 2009.
Mesoraco doubled in two runs in the seventh to complete Cincinnati’s comeback.
Cruz homered with a man on and newcomer Kelly Johnson doubled in a run before Nick Hundley capped the first-inning uprising against Mike Leake with a three-run shot.
Jonathan Schoop connected in the fourth to make it 7-2. The rookie has homered in three straight games.
Leake yielded a career high-tying seven runs on seven hits in four innings. The three home runs he allowed also matched a career high.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman gave up five hits over six innings. He left with Baltimore up 7-3.