On a night when the league's most dominant hurler was trying to put an exclamation point on the best season for a pitcher in two decades and on a night when a likely Hall of Famer made international baseball history, the Orioles' 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers came down to two unheralded rookies who combine to weigh about as much as one NFL lineman.
Matt Angle and Kyle Hudson couldn't have come up much bigger, however, Saturday night before a sellout crowd at Comerica Park that was hoping to witness Justin Verlander become the first pitcher since the Oakland Athletics' Bob Welch in 1990 to win 25 or more games.
The Detroit right-hander's fourth pitch of the night, though, landed in the right-field seats, the first homer of Angle's career in his 70th at-bat.
"Fun, a lot of fun," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think the emotion was everybody was real happy for Matt. What a way or a guy to hit your first home run off of."
Angle, who had 11 homers in 2,054 minor league at-bats in parts of five seasons, slammed the 94 mph fastball, then took off quickly.
"I wouldn't say disbelief, it was just a good feeling," said Angle, who is generously listed as 5 feet 10, 175 pounds. "It was just a pretty nice run around the bases, and some of the guys gave me a hard time when I came in the dugout."
It was Angle's first major moment of Saturday -- but not his only one. With the game tied at 5 and Verlander and Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie no longer in line for a decision, Detroit reliever Daniel Schlereth (2-2) began the ninth by giving up a single to Chris Davis.
Hudson, the speedy, former college wide receiver, pinch-ran for Davis. Robert Andino struck out on a wild pitch by Schlereth, and Hudson darted from first to third when catcher Alex Avila didn't immediately locate the ball.
"I didn't think he knew where it was at first, so I was running as hard as I could to second," said Hudson, who is listed at 5 feet 11, 162 pounds. "Kind of got around second and he still really wasn't at the ball, so I decided to go to third. It was just pretty much a read thing."
That was key, because Angle then dropped a perfect squeeze bunt and Hudson dashed home for what proved to be the winning run.
"I was confident that Matt was going to get it down. He is a good bunter. I played with him [in the minors] all year. And he's done the little things like that right all year," Hudson said. "My adrenaline was going pretty good, too, when I was running home."
Angle said he thought he might get the bunt sign as soon as Hudson got to third.
"I wasn't sure when it was going to come or if it was or not, so that first pitch, that's when it thought it might happen, and it did," Angle said.
Beleaguered Orioles closer Kevin Gregg entered and pitched a scoreless ninth to secure his 22nd save and the Orioles 67th win of the season -- topping last year's total.
The Orioles (67-91) have won nine of 12 -- all against playoff contenders -- and are hoping to take three of four from the Tigers (91-67) on Sunday afternoon. This one was about as improbable as any of the club's wins this season, with Verlander, the major league wins leader with 24, facing Guthrie, who leads the majors with 17 losses.
Before the third inning was over, though, the Orioles had taken a five-run lead against Verlander, who hadn't lost since mid-July.
After giving up J.J. Hardy's two-run single and a run-scoring base hit by Nick Markakis in the second and a 425-foot solo homer by Mark Reynolds, his team-leading 37th of the season, in the third, Verlander turned back into Verlander.
He retired 13 of his final 14 batters and left after the seventh having thrown 120 pitches, 77 for strikes. He struck out six and allowed eight hits, a walk and five earned runs, the second most he has surrendered this season.
"He's human. He's one of, if not the best, pitchers in the league this year," Showalter said. "It's not like we exactly opened him up."
When he walked off the mound in the seventh, the crowd of an announced 44,846 rose to its feet and applauded Verlander, even though he was, at the time, on the hook for his sixth loss.
Down 5-0 in the third, the Tigers slowly chipped away against Guthrie, who allowed runs in the third, twice in the fourth and another in the sixth. When Guthrie surrendered a leadoff single in the seventh to ninth-place hitter Don Kelly, Showalter removed him -- making sure he couldn't pick up the loss.
"I never really felt like they [mounted] a huge rally, but they did enough things to score," said Guthrie, who will finish the season 9-17 with a 4.33 ERA in 208 innings if he doesn't pitch in relief this week. "Quick things, and that's what kind of offense they are. They are potent all the way down, one to nine, so it can happen really quick."
Reliever Pedro Strop (2-1) set down all three batters he faced in the seventh, but in the eighth, he allowed two singles, including Jhonny Peralta's hit to left that tied the game. Angle charged the ball but triple-clutched before unsuccessfully attempting to get pinch-runner Will Rhymes at home. It was the first time Strop had allowed a run in 10 games as an Oriole.
That wiped out Guthrie's attempt at his 10th win, which would have been his fourth straight season of double-digit victories.
There was one historic moment at Comerica Park, however. With a first inning single, Orioles designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero tied Julio Franco for the most hits by a Dominican-born player at 2,586. He'll go for the record Sunday.
"A lot of good things happened, I'm lucky to be a part of it and get to look at it and watch those things," Showalter said. "We had a great seat for some good things tonight."
NOTES: Left-hander Brian Matusz, who owns the highest single-season ERA of any pitcher in history with at least 10 starts, will get one more chance this year to improve on the 10.68 mark and his 1-8 record. Matusz will pitch today in the Orioles' road finale.
Tommy Hunter (strained right groin) had a good bullpen session Saturday and is scheduled to make his next start Monday at Camden Yards.
Guthrie still leads the major league in losses with 17. If he holds that distinction at season's end, an Oriole will have led the American League in losses in five of the past six seasons: Guthrie (2011, 2009), Kevin Millwood (2010), Daniel Cabrera (2007) and Rodrigo Lopez (2006). Verlander, who lost 17 in 2008 for the Tigers, is the only non-Oriole to lead the AL in losses since 2006.
Reynolds struck out three times Saturday for 190 on the season. He has struck out at least 200 times in three consecutive years.