Jeremy Guthrie could have packed his belongings and returned to his Las Vegas home, his body aching and his pride a little bruised. The 2007 season brought enough personal achievements to satisfy most rookie pitchers, even as it threatened to end sooner than the schedule dictated. There wasn't much reason for Guthrie to keep pushing himself as the Orioles tried to avoid last place, except he wanted to take the ball one more time before letting go.
A strained oblique kept Guthrie off the mound for nearly three weeks, but he fought through the pain until the muscle healed, convinced manager Dave Trembley that he shouldn't be shut down and gave the Orioles five innings last night, along with some much-needed stability for their rotation, in an 8-5 victory over Toronto at Camden Yards.
Defensive lapses left Guthrie with another no-decision after he allowed three runs in the fifth, but shortstop Luis Hernandez made sure the night didn't end in defeat for the Orioles. One rookie trying to pick up another.
Hernandez hit his first major league homer, a two-run shot off reliever Brian Tallet in the sixth inning that returned the lead to the Orioles, who won for only the 10th time in 36 games before an announced 15,817.
Hernandez's homer, which came after Tallet replaced Severna Park native Josh Banks, was his first at any level this season. He spent most of the year at Double-A Bowie.
"I just tried swinging and hit the ball hard so [Jay Payton] could score from second," Hernandez said. "It was awesome. I hit that ball very good, but I never think it's going to go that far."
Payton hit a two-run homer off Banks in the second and drove in a run with an infield hit in the third, as the Orioles took a 4-0 lead. But his misplay later fueled a Blue Jays rally.
They scored twice off reliever Jim Hoey (3-4) in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead, the tying run crossing the plate when Payton dropped John-Ford Griffin's liner after Aaron Hill's leadoff double. Griffin came around on a single, passed ball and wild pitch.
"It didn't hit the right part of the glove," Payton said. "I was coming pretty hard and it just didn't stick."
Guthrie has gone nine starts without a victory, though he has lost only twice in that stretch. He faced one batter more than the minimum through four innings last night and could have gone beyond the fifth if the Orioles (68-91) had made enough plays behind him. But at least he was pitching again.
"He earned a lot of respect tonight," Trembley said. "He's probably one of the more well-liked guys on this team. He's a rookie in the big leagues and he doesn't pitch like one. He doesn't act like one. He doesn't go about his business like one."
Said Payton: "He didn't have to show me anything. He showed me enough before today."
Guthrie already was cemented in next year's plans, some of which were discussed earlier this week. Trembley met with team president Andy MacPhail on Wednesday to dissect the roster, and they'll engage in more talks by the weekend.
The bullpen will be a priority over the winter, with the club seeking an experienced closer and setup man to replace Chris Ray and Danys Baez, who are expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2008 season.
The Orioles also will attempt to sign or acquire a veteran starting pitcher who can give them innings, and Trembley indicated that he would be content with someone he could put in the third slot in the rotation. Guthrie likely would be No. 2 behind Erik Bedard.
"I think Guthrie could be a two," Trembley said. "I don't think it really matters to him."
Four straight hits and an error on Hernandez, who left second base too soon on an attempted force play, produced three runs in the fifth before Guthrie recorded an out. The first run scored on Griffin's fly ball that eluded Payton's reach and was ruled a double.
"It was really satisfying to be out there," Guthrie said. "I enjoy pitching and it's nice to end the season pitching healthy versus having to walk off the field injured."
Notes -- J.R. House hit his second homer in the eighth after replacing backup catcher Paul Bako two innings earlier. ... The Orioles shut down Corey Patterson, who hasn't played in the past 21 games because of a sprained left ankle. He batted .269 with eight homers, 45 RBIs and 37 stolen bases. "I want to make this clear: Corey wanted to play," Trembley said. "But I said to him, 'If this was during the regular season, I would have to send you out on a minor league rehab.' What were we going to do, fly him down to Sarasota for instructional league for two days and fly him back here to play the last game on Sunday?" Patterson is a free agent after the season.