For weeks, Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie has been on a lighthearted mission to identify the organization's "nuggets," the term manager Buck Showalter used in his introductory news conference to designate the players the club can build around.
His expanding list has never included his own name. Showalter might beg to differ.
In a matchup of two starters who have been dominant since the All-Star break, Guthrie out-dueled the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer, pitching seven scoreless innings in the Orioles' series-clinching 5-3 victory in front of an announced 28,139 at Comerica Park.
"He's pitched like you need to pitch to pitch in this division and it's encouraging," said Showalter, who remembers talking about what a good trade chip Guthrie was for the Orioles during his analyst job at ESPN. He has since expressed appreciation that the club did not trade him. "I've said many times that a lot of times, guys in that 28-to-32-year-old range start figuring out things. Throw out what time of the year it is and where we're at, these games mean something to us, and I think the pitchers are kind of feeding off each other."
Locked in a duel with Scherzer until the Orioles broke a scoreless tie with four runs in the sixth inning, Guthrie allowed just five hits and one walk, improving to 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break. He also produced the longest scoreless outing by an Orioles starter at Comerica Park since the stadium opened in 2000.
"It's a reflection of the team," said Guthrie, who has given up just two earned runs in his past three starts, spanning 22 1/3 innings. "It's a different scenario around here right now. We feel like we have a little bit of momentum and we're getting better in September versus just trying to make it through the end of the season. I think that's a big difference for all of us -- pitchers and position players alike. Hopefully, we can sprint through the finish versus kind of limping in like we have the past couple of years, myself included."
The Orioles, who got four hits from Adam Jones and 16 overall, won for the sixth time in seven games and ensured a second consecutive winning road trip for the first time since 2008.
Already 4-1 on this trip, the Orioles (55-87) will attempt to become the first team this season to sweep the Tigers at Comerica Park. Chris Tillman will be on the mound in the series finale, trying to author one more impressive start from a rotation that has gone 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in the five games on this trip.
"You can just see that they're taking the field with a better air of confidence," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose club hasn't lost back-to-back games to the Orioles at Comerica Park since June 4-5, 2005. "It looks like they're expecting to win, they're expecting to close it out. And until you start winning a few games, that's hard to do. But it seems like they've got that swagger now."
Things did get hairy after Guthrie left the game following the seventh inning with the Orioles holding a 4-0 lead. Matt Albers allowed three straight two-out hits in the eighth, the final one -- a double by Jhonny Peralta -- bringing in two runs and cutting the Orioles' lead to 4-3. But Albers retired Brandon Inge to leave the potential tying run at second base.
Felix Pie brought in an important insurance run with his third hit of the night, a single in the ninth, and Koji Uehara got the final three outs to pick up his ninth save.
The loss was Scherzer's 10th of the season but his first since Aug. 10. He had allowed one earned run or none in five of his past six starts and has a 2.15 ERA in 11 outings after the All-Star break.
He appeared to be on his way to another strong start, stranding runners on the corners with one out in the first inning and the bases loaded with one out in the fourth. But he couldn't escape the jam in the sixth inning, when the first four Orioles collected hits.
"We just basically followed the leader in that sixth inning, and we picked each other up. We were fortunate enough to pick up the runs," Jones said. "We're playing unselfish baseball -- get 'em over, get 'em in, pick each other up. Do the small things. It's been working."
In the decisive inning, Jones and Pie hit back-to-back doubles, and rookie Josh Bell, who later took a hard grounder by Miguel Cabrera off his right hand and will have X-rays on Sunday, followed with an infield single. Cesar Izturis, who was overmatched by a high fastball to end the Orioles' bases-loaded threat in the fourth, drove in two runs with a triple into spacious right-center field.
"Early on, he was tough," Izturis said of Scherzer.
"He's got good stuff. You have a fastball coming at you hard and up. But that inning, we scored a couple of runs and got the 'W.' It was the same philosophy. For me, I was trying to put the ball in play. Don't swing too hard and just try to put the ball in play and get a run in."
While Scherzer appeared to hit the wall in the seventh inning, Guthrie got stronger as the game wore on. Pitching on six days' rest, Guthrie stranded five base runners in the first three innings, getting Don Kelly to foul out with two men on in the third. That started a stretch in which Guthrie retired 12 straight Tigers before issuing a two-out walk to Alex Avila in the seventh inning. He then fell behind 3-0 to Ramon Santiago, who wound up flying out, ending Guthrie's night.
"I felt like I was cruising down the freeway in cruise control, maybe at 60 miles an hour, and all of a sudden I started to sputter and I pulled over and had no gas," said Guthrie, who is 10-13 with a 3.74 ERA. "I'm glad I could throw a strike to Santiago, and I'm glad he swung at the next one and hit it to somebody that was standing out there. I was definitely running towards the end of what I had left in the tank."