Guthrie has easy Sunday

The Baltimore Sun

OAKLAND, Calif. -- As a pitching duel between two rookies headed into the late innings on a sun-drenched day at McAfee Coliseum, Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie found himself in familiar territory.

He had spent a Sunday afternoon mostly dominating the opposition, putting up zero after zero when one bad pitch could've made the difference between a loss or an equally frustrating no-decision.

But this time, the opposition cracked first. The Orioles scraped together enough quality at-bats yesterday to break the scoreless tie against Oakland Athletics starter Dallas Braden and then watched the bullpen finish out a 2-0 victory without closer Chris Ray.

With Ray unavailable because of a stiff pitching arm that will be examined in Baltimore, Jamie Walker got the last three outs for his first save since July 2004. The victory, before an announced 25,552, capped a respectable 3-3 trip and a rare series victory on the road. The Orioles (44-53) also improved to 6-4 since the All-Star break.

"Today was a character game for us after feeling like we should have won [Saturday] night," said Dave Trembley, who is 15-13 as Orioles interim manager. "We really came up big today. The first inning, we probably had a chance to break that game open, but we didn't do it. We hung right in there and made the plays defensively, and Guthrie made the pitches."

In what has been a season of firsts for Guthrie, the right-hander won consecutive starts for the first time by holding the A's to just two hits through seven innings. He walked three, didn't allow a runner to advance to second base and struck out six.

Since allowing a season-high five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings to the Chicago White Sox in his first start after the All-Star break, Guthrie (6-3) has pitched 13 innings in his past two starts, allowing two runs and eight hits to lower his ERA to 2.88.

"I wanted to use my fastball," Guthrie said. "I was able to locate it very well. I didn't have great zip on it all the time. I got real tired in the sixth and the seventh. I had to battle through the seventh, getting behind guys. But the location helped me a lot obviously."

Finally, it was a satisfying end to a Sunday for Guthrie, who was winless in three previous starts on that day. On Sunday, May 13, Guthrie shut out the Boston Red Sox for eight innings before being removed with one out in the ninth of a 5-0 game. The Orioles' bullpen coughed up the lead in that Mother's Day meltdown.

Three weeks later, Guthrie held the Los Angeles Angels to one earned run in eight innings, but the Orioles lost the game - and Guthrie his win - when Vladimir Guerrero hit a game-winning, two-run homer off Ray.

"We really haven't felt that way in a while, to be honest with you, when we're just waiting for something bad to happen," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who walked twice and scored the Orioles' first run. "Yeah, there have been stretches in my career where that's the way it has been. But we've been playing pretty good baseball. I think everybody feels confidence with what we're doing and the way we've been playing."

Still, the Orioles had chances to make it a relatively stress-free Sunday afternoon and a relaxing cross-country trip back home. But they again couldn't do much against Braden, who held them to one run in his major league debut in April.

Braden had gone winless in four decisions since, and he got in immediate trouble in the first. The Orioles had runners on first and third with no outs, but the A's rookie struck out Nick Markakis, Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez in order.

After the threat, the Orioles didn't mount anything offensively until the sixth, when Roberts led off with a walk. He moved to second on Corey Patterson's sacrifice bunt and then to third on Markakis' groundout. Millar got behind Braden 1-2, but went down and hit a curveball into shallow left field for a single, breaking the scoreless tie.

That was all the Orioles needed, though Jay Payton drove in an insurance run with a ninth-inning single that scored Markakis, who had led off with a single and then stole second.

"You go out every time and try to put up a zero whether we have three runs or zero," Guthrie said. "That's usually my focus no matter how many runs we put up."

Ray, the Orioles' second-year closer, who has 16 saves in 20 attempts, told Trembley before the game that his arm felt stiff while he was playing catch. Trembley immediately told Ray to shut it down for the day, then informed Walker and Chad Bradford they would likely be needed for the later innings.

When Guthrie left after the seventh with his pitch count at 99, Bradford pitched a perfect eighth, needing just seven pitches to get out of the inning and being helped by a diving play by Roberts at second. Walker retired the A's in order in the ninth.

Oakland has lost 11 of 13 games and five straight series, while the Orioles went home feeling good, though with concerns about their closer's health.

"I'm not a closer by no means," Walker said. "That's just the way it worked out today. ... But I feel like I can get anybody out at any time. You have to have that mind-set. I'll do whatever the team needs."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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