NEW YORK– On Opening Day at Camden Yards, Oriolesstarter Jake Arrieta talked about setting the tone for the season with a quality start.
A month later at Yankee Stadium, it was Arrieta continuing to follow the lead of his rotation-mates, throwing eight shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the New York Yankees in what has become an impressive and, frankly, unexpected run of starting pitching.
Surprising, apparently, to everyone but those wearing orange and black.
“Those guys have great stuff and great ability,” said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, whose fourth-inning homer gave his team all the offense it would need. “And now they are starting to learn how to pitch and learn how to get deep into games and not sort of worry about getting their five or six innings. They go out there to win a game and try and finish it if they can.”
Arrieta couldn’t finish what he started Wednesday, but he was “as good as you can be,” according to Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
The 26-year-old right-hander threw a career-high eight innings and matched a career-high with nine strikeouts while walking none and allowing just five hits. He became the first Orioles pitcher to throw eight or more shutout innings against the Yankees since Sidney Ponson had a complete game shutout at old Yankee Stadium in September 2004.
“I know I'm more than capable of doing that, even finishing a game on my own,” said Arrieta (2-2), who picked up his first win since Opening Day. “Some counts got extended on some good pitches, so I wasn't able to go out for the ninth. Yeah, I feel really good about finishing eight tonight.”
The Orioles won a series in New York for the first time since September 2010. The winners in that series were the same ones this week here: Arrieta and lefty Brian Matusz.
But, oh, how things have changed since then. Matusz is attempting to fight his way back to the promise he showed at the end of that season. And Arrieta is attempting to emerge as the club’s No. 1 starter after missing part of last year with surgery to remove a bone spur.
“I think it’s up to some of the young guys like Matusz and myself to really start to show our maturity and really pitch these type of ballgames,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta’s gem – and 5 2/3 scoreless innings from the bullpen this series -- allowed the Orioles to hold the Yankees to two runs or fewer for three consecutive games in the Bronx for the first time since 1978. Mike Flanagan allowed two runs on May 31, 1978, Jim Palmer threw a shutout the next day and then Flanagan and Don Stanhouse held the eventual World Champions to one run in the Orioles next visit to Yankee Stadium that August.
The Yankees won 2-1 on Monday, lost 7-1 on Tuesday before being shutout Wednesday. The Orioles had allowed two runs or fewer in the Bronx just once in each of the previous three seasons.
The club’s starting pitching dominance goes deeper than just this series in New York, though. The Orioles have nine quality starts in their last 10 games and have posted a 1.65 ERA in that span. Not coincidentally, the Orioles (16-9) have won eight of their last 10.
“I think we’ve been confident all year,” Wieters said. “We trust our ability and we believe in the guys we have in that clubhouse. The big thing for us is not to try and get ahead of ourselves or try and get too down. It’s just, ‘Go out there and play each game’.”
Wieters broke a scoreless tie with his seventh homer in the Orioles’ 25th game of the season. His seventh homer last year came in the Orioles’ 74th game on June 25.
He almost had another in the seventh – which would have been the 50th of Wieters’ career – but the deep drive hit the top of the wall. Wieters settled for a RBI double, which chased Nova, who was charged with five earned runs on nine hits and four walks in 6 1/3 innings. Wieters is now 7-for-14 with three homers and five RBIs against Nova (1-3), who was charged with his first loss of the year.
“Matty's in a good place in a lot of ways,” Showalter said. “He's seeing the ball well, letting it travel, putting a lot of good at-bats together. When he makes them throw the ball in the strike zone, he's pretty lethal.”
Nova also gave up a seventh inning home run to Nick Markakis, his third this year and first since homering in consecutive games to begin the season. Nick Johnson, who had been hitless in his first 29 at-bats before a double Tuesday, had two hits Wednesday and an RBI.
But the added runs weren’t needed by Arrieta, who became just the second Orioles starter to go eight innings in 2012 – matching Jason Hammel in the third game of the season.
The only real disruption of Arrieta’s excellent night was a man-made delay in the sixth with one on and no outs. Arrieta went 1-2 to Eric Chavez, who stepped out of the box and called time twice. Yankees’ trainers dashed out of the dugout and led Chavez back to the bench; the Yankees third baseman was apparently dealing with whiplash symptoms and a possible concussion after diving for a ball in the fifth. He was checked out at a nearby hospital.
Eduardo Nunez was called to replace Chavez, but Nunez ran back down the dugout tunnel before reappearing a minute or two later. Arrieta was stuck standing around in the cold while Showalter looked about as content as a man snacking on carpenter’s nails. Play finally resumed and Arrieta struck out Nunez – with the outcome credited to Chavez – and then induced two fly outs to finish the inning.
“There’s going to be long layoffs like that from time to time, not necessarily in the inning, but a long layoff in between innings when we’re on offense,” Arrieta said. “You have to just stay mentally focused as best as you can.”
Arrieta had to settle with giving the Orioles their fifth series win in seven attempts this season. The club is now seven games over .500 for the first time since July 19, 2005.
So, is the hot start for real?
“We've got a great team,” Arrieta said. “We all know that in order to get people on board, we've got to show it."
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