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Orioles waste Britton's gem but win on Hardy's single in 12th

Orioles rookie Zach Britton kept waiting and waiting in the hope that one run would come and the finest start of his young career would turn into his sixth victory.

It didn't, which was about the Orioles' only regret on a memorable Thursday night.

Britton and the Seattle Mariners' Jason Vargas were masterful as both pitched nine shutout innings, but the game wasn't decided until J.J. Hardy's bases-loaded, two-run single in the 12th inning lifted the Orioles to a pulsating 2-1 victory in front of an announced 19,082 at Camden Yards.

"Unbelievable. How many times do you see two pitchers go nine shutout innings?" said Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee, a veteran of 15 big league seasons. "It's a good game, a fun game, really. I wish we could have gotten Britt the win, but we just hung in there, stuck it out and got a big hit when we needed it.

"That's a character-building win, right there. It was kind of a frustrating night offensively. We couldn't get anything going, and they scored a run in the 12th. One run in this game seemed like 10 runs. But we hung in there and came right back with two to win it. I think it showed a lot of character."

After Miguel Olivo's two-out RBI single off Jim Johnson scored Ichiro Suzuki and broke a scoreless tie in the top of the 12th, Lee led off with a single off Brandon League. The Mariners closer hit consecutive batters -- Vladimir Guerrero and Adam Jones -- to load the bases with no outs. Matt Wieters lined out before Hardy delivered with a single up the middle that grazed League's hand before heading into center field.

Pinch runner Jake Fox scored the winning run from second base, sliding into home ahead of Michael Saunders' throw. The Orioles (17-19) celebrated their second walk-off, extra-innings victory over Seattle in three days -- both against League, who had been 9-for-9 in save opportunities when the series began -- and their first three-game sweep over the Mariners here since May 24-26, 2005.

"It would have been a tougher plane ride, that's for sure, to waste an effort like we got from Zach tonight," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose team begins a three-game series and five-game road trip at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Britton, the 23-year-old left-hander who is building a nice foundation for a run at the American League Rookie of the Year award, allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out five. He retired the final 13 hitters he faced and never allowed a Mariner to reach second base. All three hits he gave up were one-out singles.

"My job was to keep us in the game as long as possible," said Britton, who threw 76 of his 108 pitches for strikes. It was the first time he has gone nine innings as a professional. "You've got to tip your hat to Vargas, who threw the ball really well. When's that going to happen again, two guys going like that? Fortunately, J.J. came up big right there and we won the game. That's big."

Britton, whose ERA is down to 2.42 after eight starts, became the first Orioles starter to throw nine shutout innings and get a no-decision since Mike Morgan did it April 16, 1988. His counterpart, Vargas, was not as dominant, allowing seven hits -- all singles -- and walking one, but he was even more efficient, getting three double plays and needing just 101 pitches to get through the ninth.

The duel marked the first time two pitchers went nine innings or more each and both got no-decisions since July 10, when the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay and the Cincinnati Reds' Travis Wood traded zeros. Thursday's game was just the third such occurrence in the big leagues since 2000.

The last time the Orioles played a game in which both pitchers went nine innings was July 11, 2003, when Rodrigo Lopez and the Oakland Athletics' Tim Hudson did it.

"In my career, I've never seen two pitchers go nine shutout [innings]. They were both good, really good. Zach was phenomenal," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who had two hits, breaking out of his 0-for-26 slump.

"There weren't a whole lot of hard-hit balls on either side. The frustration wasn't mounting because neither team had a whole lot of chances. You just knew it was a great baseball game to be a part of. But certainly, you want to get your guy a win when he pitches that well."

If Britton has had one issue through 1 1/2 months of his rookie season, it has been his pitch efficiency. In each of his previous three starts, Britton broke the 90-pitch plateau in the sixth inning. Thursday, he walked to the dugout after a perfect eighth having thrown just 98 pitches.

Showalter opted to keep him in through the ninth, and he needed just 10 pitches to dispatch of Saunders, Suzuki and Chone Figgins. The crowd was standing after Britton threw the first strike to Figgins.

"I was getting goose bumps out there. It was pretty awesome," Britton said. "When I felt like I still had good stuff was probably the sixth, seventh inning when I was still able to locate pitches and get ahead. I saw the swings they were putting on balls. That's when I knew it was going to be a good day."

Kevin Gregg relieved Britton in the 10th and got Mike Wilson to hit into an inning-ending double play. Johnson pitched a scoreless 11th before allowing a leadoff infield single to Suzuki in the 12th.

Suzuki advanced to second on Figgins' groundout, which Roberts bobbled, forcing him to take the sure out at first. Suzuki went to third on Adam Kennedy's groundout to Hardy. The shortstop probably had a play on Suzuki at third, but he too didn't get a good grip on the ball and threw to first instead.

That loomed large when Olivo hit a hard single to right to score the game's first run. However, Hardy more than made up for it in the bottom of the inning, providing a dramatic end to a night that could have been better only if Britton had gotten the win he so richly deserved.

"I told him, 'Our bad,'" Lee said. "You pitch that good, you should get a win. But their guy did a good job, too. [Britton's] going to get his fair share of wins."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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