In their first game against the Red Sox in the 2011 season, the Orioles collected their first win over Boston, a 4-1 victory in which rookie left-hander Zach Britton was impressive yet again.
It was the Orioles’ first series-opening win since beginning the season with three consecutive victories in series openers on their way to a 6-1 start.
Britton became the first rookie starter in franchise history to win four games in the month of April, becoming just the fifth American League rookie since 1980 to win four by the end of the season’s opening month.
Kevin Gregg recorded his first save that didn’t require an Orioles outfielder crashing into the fence to record the final out with runners on base. The closer retired the Red Sox in order to earn his third save of the season and keep fans’ blood pressure at a tranquil level.
And the Baltimore offense, a group that’s struggled mightily through the season’s first three weeks, became the first lineup to score more than two runs against a Red Sox starting pitcher in Boston’s last 10 games, a period in which starters had posted a 0.88 earned run average in 61 1/3 innings over nine games. It was the Red Sox’ best nine-game stretch of starting pitching since July 1918 when Babe Ruth anchored their starting rotation.
Though hardly an offensive explosion, the Orioles collected 12 hits and three sacrifice flies to send Clay Buchholz to his third loss of the season. Prior to Tuesday night, the 26-year-old had allowed only one run in 28 innings of work in his last four starts against the Orioles.
In an all-around fun night at Camden Yards for the 18,938 fans not rooting for the Red Sox, Britton was once again the star, failing to blink in his first career start against one of the two big boys in the American League East. The left-hander allowed one earned run over six innings, surrendering five hits while walking two and striking out two.
Britton began the month of April expecting to pitch for Triple-A Norfolk, the result of a business decision by the organization to delay starting his service time. He finishes the month 4-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, having pitched six innings or more in each of his five starts.
Time will tell whether Britton’s hot start is the first chapter of a brilliant career, only a flash in the pan, or somewhere in the middle, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the results, the talent, and what the 23-year-old possesses between the ears — and elsewhere, according to his teammates.
“He’s got a pair,” said outfielder Adam Jones about the rookie’s intestinal fortitude. “Every time he walks out on that mound, he goes out there and gives it his all, and that’s really all you can ask.”
It wasn’t a perfect outing as Britton’s pitch count caught up with him — as is often the case against the patient Boston lineup — but the sinkerball pitcher induced 10 ground ball outs compared to six in the air. His only blemish came in the fourth inning when he allowed Dustin Pedroia to steal third base before cleanup hitter Kevin Youkilis hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the only Boston run.
After years of watching young Baltimore pitchers wilt in their first meeting with the Red Sox or Yankees, Britton displayed the same composure he’s held since making his major league debut in Tampa Bay on April 3.
“I really don’t get that nervous out there,” Britton said. “I don’t know what it is. It’s not that I have a huge ego or anything. I just don’t get nervous out there. I have a lot of confidence that I can get out of jams and if I’m out there getting all worried, I think the situations blow up. I try to take my time and take a couple breaths and get after it.”
It was a much-needed performance for a club struggling to score runs. Despite collecting 12 hits on the night, the Orioles also left 11 men on base as Buchholz battled through 6 2/3 innings before giving way to the Red Sox bullpen. Jones hit two sacrifice flies while Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero combined for five hits in nine at-bats in what’s hopefully a sign of better things to come for the Orioles’ two biggest offseason acquisitions.
The bats will need to stay warm as the Orioles face Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in the final two games of the three-game set. Aiming to win their first series since April 4-7, the Orioles’ ability to get the first one out of the way makes it a far more reasonable task.
“We’re a hit away from opening it up a little bit, but Buchholz is pretty good,” said manager Buck Showalter of the team’s offensive output. “So is Beckett and so is Lester and so is [John] Lackey and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka. It’s the big leagues, so you’ve got to give them credit, too. But we scored a run to get up early.”
Jumping on teams early is exactly what the Orioles haven’t been able to do as they entered Tuesday’s game having lost 11 of 13 games.
But after a quality night of baseball, the Orioles hope Tuesday’s victory over the Red Sox is the first step in recapturing the early-season mojo wiped away by two difficult weeks of baseball.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Zach Britton, Adam Jones, Buck Showalter, Derrek Lee, and Matt Wieters following the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox.