Peter Schmuck discusses Orioles 1-0 win over the Boston Red Sox in the opening game of the series. (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun)
The buzz around Camden Yards on Tuesday night centered on former Orioles pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, who was making his third big league start, against his former team, wearing the road gray uniform of the division-rival Boston Red Sox.
The 22-year-old Rodriguez, dealt to Boston at last season's deadline in a win-now trade to acquire left-hander Andrew Miller, held the Orioles scoreless through six innings. But the Orioles outmatched him, recording their third shutout win of the season with a 1-0 victory over the Red Sox in front of an announced 28,460 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles blanked the Red Sox despite the Orioles bullpen having to account for 4 2/3 innings after starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was forced from the game in the fifth with a right groin strain.
"It's pretty much the situation you don't want to happen," said closer Zach Britton, who recorded his second five-out save in six days. "We are trying to get on a roll, win some games and get out of the dungeon, so to speak, in the standings a little bit. We are playing good ball right now. Offense is scoring just enough runs and we are pitching the way we are capable of pitching so those are good things."
The win, which pushed the Orioles (27-30) ahead of the Red Sox (27-32) for fourth place in the American League East, was just their second in 22 games this season when scoring two or fewer runs. It was also the Orioles' first 1-0 win since last season's regular-season finale Sept. 28 in Toronto.
Steve Pearce, who led off the seventh with a double against Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes, scored the game's only run on a wild pitch.
Gonzalez tweaked his groin on the final pitch of the fourth inning. He tried to pitch through it, but after he retired Dustin Pedroia for the first out of the fifth, manager Buck Showalter, pitching coach Dave Wallace and trainer Richie Bancells went to the mound. After a brief discussion, Gonzalez left the game.
Left-hander T.J. McFarland and right-hander Chaz Roe combined to pitch three scoreless innings, and Britton recorded his 16th save.
"That was a great job by the staff," catcher Matt Wieters said. "That's a tough lineup. It's a 1-0 game, but it's a lot of good pitches had to go in to make that 1-0 game."
Britton entered the game with runners at first and second and one out in the eighth, but struck out David Ortiz looking on a 96-mph sinker and then threw a 95-mph sinker past a swinging Mike Napoli to escape.
Britton overcame a two-out walk in the ninth, retiring Boston catcher Blake Swihart on a force play to end the game. Britton also had a five-out save in a 3-2 win Thursday in Houston.
Rodriguez entered the game with an 0.61 ERA in two major league starts, having allowed just one run over 14 2/3 innings. He wasn't as dominating Tuesday night, but Rodriguez recovered from a 27-pitch first inning to record his second scoreless quality start in three big league outings.
Despite a high pitch count, Rodriguez kept the Red Sox in the game. He allowed six baserunners over six innings (three singles and three walks) while striking out seven.
"He's got special stuff," Wieters said of Rodriguez. "There's no doubt about it. We loved him when he was over here. He's got a great arm and for a young kid, he's got a great idea of what he's doing out there on the mound. We knew what we were going to get into. It was going to be a battle. We were able to get his [pitch count] up and we finally scratched one against the bullpen. We knew he was going to be tough today, and next time we'll have to make some adjustments and hopefully score a couple off him."
Rodriguez's best moment of the night was the poise he showed escaping a two-on, no-outs jam in the fifth. Rodriguez allowed a leadoff single to J.J. Hardy and hit No. 9 hitter Ryan Flaherty with a pitch, but still didn't allow a run.
He received a fine defensive play from shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who erased the lead runner on a force play at third. Rodriguez went on to strike out Delmon Young and Adam Jones to get out of the inning.
After striking out Jones, getting him to swing through an elevated 94-mph fastball, Rodriguez emphatically pounded his fist into his glove three times as he walked off the mound.
"We've talked a lot about his poise, we've talked a lot about his stuff — clearly in the middle innings, his competitive spirit really came through with some big pitches," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Through three starts, we're looking at a pretty special young man."
Pearce opened the seventh with an opposite-field double off the right-field scoreboard, the Orioles' only extra-base hit all night. Pearce went to third on Hardy's single.
Barnes' first pitch to Flaherty skipped in the dirt and escaped from Swihart, allowing Pearce to score.
Wieters, playing his fourth game back from Tommy John surgery last June, helped preserve the shutout in the eighth.
Pedroia was awarded first base when it was ruled that a high and tight pitch from Roe hit him — the Orioles challenged the play, but it was confirmed — and Brock Holt walked. But Wieters broke from behind the plate to field a bunt by Rusney Castillo and threw to third to erase the lead baserunner, setting the stage for Britton.