WASHINGTON -- They botched bunts, hit into ill-timed double plays and made an emergency starter look like a National League Cy Young Award contender. But as Orioles left fielder Jay Payton pointed out later, as long as your pitching keeps the game close, you always have a chance to win.
And so it was last night that the game and two struggling offenses rolled into the 11th inning at RFK Stadium. Jeremy Guthrie and three relievers did their part for the Orioles and it was Payton who finally came up with a big hit. His two-run double down the left-field line off Winston Abreu sent the Orioles to a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals before an announced crowd of 30,661.
"That's the great thing about baseball," said Payton, who ripped a first-pitch slider from Abreu, who pitched parts of last season with the Orioles. "It's outs. You are not on a clock. In basketball, if there are two minutes left and you are down 20, the game is over. In baseball, if you keep yourself close in the game, you always have a chance to do something. Fortunately, tonight we were able to get it done."
Closer Chris Ray picked up his 10th save, giving up a run in the bottom of the 11th on Tony Batista's single but surviving another shaky performance. The Orioles (20-23), now alone in second place in the American League East, will go for a three-game sweep over their southern neighbors this afternoon behind No. 1 starter Erik Bedard.
"You get tired of losing," Payton said. "We've been losing a lot of games lately. You have to be able to put together back-to-back wins. This is a step in the right direction."
It was an odd matchup to develop into a pitchers' duel. As brilliant as Guthrie was last Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, he still was making just his fifth career start. The Nationals' Mike Bacsik, recalled earlier in the day after Jason Bergmann went to the disabled list, was making his 16th, but his first since 2004.
Bacsik, a 29-year-old soft-tossing left-hander, became the latest lightly regarded and mostly unknown pitcher to shut down the Orioles this season. He allowed a base runner in all but one of his six innings. However, the Orioles couldn't push any runs across against him.
"We're not hitting enough," Melvin Mora said. "But we won. That's all I care about, the score in the end."
Before the game, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo talked about what a relief it was to have broken a five-game losing streak a night earlier and also discussed his job security in the wake of the Orioles' first win in nearly a week.
"I've always felt I was the right guy for this job," Perlozzo said. "I felt that way when I signed, and I still feel that way. I keep telling myself to go do the best job you can do, because I believe in myself. I believe that this club is going to be better and better as we go along. I feel like we can get this thing going, and I just keep plugging away."
It was Perlozzo's decision to pull Guthrie, who was pitching a three-hit shutout, two outs shy of a complete game that put the manager at the center of fan unrest. The Red Sox rallied after Guthrie left following an error by Ramon Hernandez, scoring six times to win. After the game, the talk predictably centered on the Orioles' collapse and Perlozzo's decision to pull Guthrie, not on the finest performance of the 28-year-old's career.
Guthrie authored a nice follow-up last night, surrendering an RBI double to Nook Logan in the second inning before retiring 15 straight Nationals hitters. In seven innings, Guthrie allowed four hits and the one earned run, while walking none and racking up a career-high 10 strikeouts.
"It would be frustrating if I was greedy trying to get wins," said Guthrie, who in four starts spanning 26 1/3 innings has allowed just three earned runs. "I'm just trying to fill in and pitch well, and if I can go deep in games and keep us close, then I'm very happy with that. And the wins will hopefully take care of themselves as we go along."
The Orioles took Guthrie off the hook from an undeserved loss with a run in the eighth inning off setup man Jon Rauch. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis engineered a double steal with one out and then Roberts scored on pinch hitter Aubrey Huff's sacrifice fly.
The Nationals, who had just six hits in 11 innings, stranded two runners in the ninth as John Parrish struck out Batista. They also stranded two more in the 10th when Parrish got Cristian Guzman to line out to Roberts, who had made an error on the previous play.
In the decisive 11th, Hernandez drew a leadoff walk and Freddie Bynum, who was pinch running for Hernandez, stole second. Mora hit a one-out single to put runners on first and third for Payton, who smoked a line drive that stayed fair.
"We're trying to get something going," Perlozzo said. "We had a tough stretch, and I thought the guys - when that game ended - were extremely excited. A little bit more excitement than I've seen in a little bit. It's good. You hope a couple wins like that can start a streak for you and give you a little confidence. We'll see."