BOSTON — Orioles closer Zach Britton's 20th save in 20 chances this season was a long one, a necessary one, and to hear him tell it, a wholly unremarkable one.
He'd have rather gotten one of the best hitters in a generation, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, to have grounded into a double play to end the eighth inning as opposed to striking out on three pitches and looking foolish doing so.
He'd rather not have allowed one of the two runners he inherited from closer Mychal Givens to score. And he'd rather not think about the fact that the season is more than one-third over, and he has done his job of closing games better and more often than anyone in the majors.
"I try not to think about it too much," Britton said. "I think when I get out on the mound, I'm trying to make quality pitches and trying to help us win. I think that's the most important thing. The numbers normally take care of themselves when you go out there and you execute pitches, and that's really my only mindset right now."
Converting 20 save chances in a row, and 22 straight dating back to last season, doesn't rate for him. But it does to his friend and teammate, Chris Tillman.
"It's incredible watching that guy pitch," Tillman said. "I'm not just saying that because he's my teammate. He's got some of the best stuff I think I've seen in baseball. It's just ridiculous. I don't know how anyone can put a good swing on it. He takes a lot of pride in it and it's fun to watch."
Britton's four strikeouts give him 32 in 28 innings on the season, and came in his second five-out save of the season. He's gone multiple innings eight times — all successfully — and become an asset as the Orioles try not to overuse some of their bullpen weapons in the absence of setup man Darren O'Day (groin).
"The big thing for me is pitch count," Britton said. "It's not ups and downs. It's really not consecutive days for the most part. Brad [Brach] has obviously been throwing the ball well, too, so he's helped a lot. It's helped kind of ease the burden on me and pretty much everybody else in the bullpen, but I think pitch count.
"That's why when I come in the game I want to get a ground ball right away and get that first out in the inning. Strikeouts are great when I need them, but for the most part I want early contact and get out of the inning with few pitches and few strikeouts. I can go multiple innings on consecutive days. With the way our bullpen is shaped, even without Darren, everyone is throwing the ball really well, and I think that's why we're having success."
Britton's individual success, though, is all on him. His sinker has produced some of the more impressive peripheral stats of any reliever in the game. Here's one of the most impressive: since becoming a full-time reliever in 2014, Britton had allowed one of 30 inherited runners to score when he was on the mound before Tuesday. The last one came on April 7, 2014, meaning that since he assumed the closer role, he'd never come in with runners on and let one score.
Britton's 0.96 ERA is fifth-best in the majors among relievers with at least 20 appearances. His 80 percent ground ball rate is the best among relievers in baseball, nearly four percentage points better than the next-best reliever, Oakland's Mark Rzepczynski.