Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta are close friends, so close that Arrieta tried to talk his way into staying with the Orioles through April 3 -- instead of heading home early to prepare for his start in the home opener -- so he could be at Tropicana Field for Britton's major league debut.
Arrieta had to settle for watching it on television back in Baltimore. On Saturday, he was at Camden Yards and witnessed Britton dominate the previously unbeaten Texas Rangers over 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the Orioles' 5-0 victory in the first game of a straight doubleheader.
But their quest for a doubleheader sweep ended emphatically when Arrieta imploded and gave up six runs in the third inning on the way to a 13-1 loss in front of an announced 36,243. Arrieta allowed a career-high eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings while his counterpart, Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison, surrendered just two hits over seven innings and retired the final 18 hitters he faced after Adam Jones' solo homer to lead off the second inning.
"I try to dwell on the [positive]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I am glad it only counts as one loss. I kind of dwell on [the fact that] Jake had really good stuff and deserved to have a better outing than he did. You've got to tip your hat to Texas there."
The lopsided defeat in the nightcap was part of a difficult end to a long day as the Orioles (6-2) likely lost shortstop J.J. Hardy to the disabled list because of an oblique injury, were forced to use their two long relievers, managed just four hits and watched the Rangers (7-1) tally 13 hits, including long home runs by Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz. The offensive breakout made what Britton did in the first game -- he allowed just four hits and walked three -- even more impressive.
"He was very good, that goes without saying," Showalter said. "I think he had five hitters on to leadoff innings. That's the beauty of the ground ball. We actually had a chance to turn another [double play] behind him. He had good stuff. I thought his secondary stuff was good, too. [Matt] Wieters … did a great job with him. They were really on the same page. That's a tough team to keep to no runs, as evidenced by the second game."
With men on the corners and two outs in the eighth inning, Showalter emerged from the dugout to take the ball from Britton, who walked off the mound to a standing ovation. But, in keeping with his demeanor on the mound for much of the afternoon, Britton didn't flinch.
"I knew they were on their feet the whole time. I just don't feel like I should be running in all happy with guys on base and not being able to finish that inning," he said. "My job is to finish that inning, get the out. I didn't do it, so I wasn't too happy about that. But we won, so that's the big thing."
Jason Berken relieved Britton and retired Ian Kinsler to end the eighth. He struck out Michael Young with a man on to end the game, securing the Orioles' first shutout of 2011 and improving their mark to 17-4 in series openers under Showalter.
Nick Markakis set the tone in Game 1 with a first-inning homer off Colby Lewis, and Mark Reynolds added to the lead in the second inning by slamming an 87 mph 1-1 pitch deep into the left-field seats. The three-run homer gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead, more than enough for Britton.
Facing a team that had scored 42 runs over its first six games, Britton didn't allow his first hit until Cruz's single to right field with one out in the fifth. It quickly was erased when Britton got Napoli to hit into an inning-ending double play, one of three induced by the 23-year-old rookie.
"It doesn't really matter who we are facing. My job today was to go out there and give us a lot of innings because we have a doubleheader. So, just save the bullpen," said Britton, who threw 103 pitches, 63 for strikes. "That's what my mindset was, just keep us in the game and log innings. I'm happy we won. I think we showed we can compete with a good team. We played really good baseball today, and that's what this is all about. What I did was just icing on the cake."
The Rangers didn't have a runner in scoring position until the sixth, when Yorvit Torrealba led off with a double. He moved to third on Julio Borbon's groundout but got no farther as Kinsler lined out to first baseman Derrek Lee and Elvis Andrus grounded out. Josh Hamilton led off the seventh with a single before Britton got Beltre to hit into a double play and made a slick snag of Young's come-backer to end the inning.
In two starts this season, he is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA and has allowed just seven hits and six walks while striking out eight in 13 2/3 innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last Orioles starting pitcher to allow one or no runs in his first two major league appearances and pitch at least 13 2/3 total innings in those starts was Tom Phoebus in September 1966.
"He's got good stuff," Jones said. "It's his second start in the big leagues. Ask me about that in July. A lot of video is going to get out on him and he's going to have to make those adjustments, but he has electric stuff. Good pitching can still beat anybody's offense, and he just hit his spots."
The Rangers' offensive woes extended into Game 2 as Arrieta easily retired the first six hitters he faced. But he came unglued in the third inning, which started with a four-pitch walk to David Murphy. Napoli singled and Mitch Moreland walked to load the bases. With one out, Andrus lined a two-run single into right field to give the Rangers their first lead of the series. Hamilton followed with a two-run single, and Beltre slammed an 0-2 pitch deep into the left-field seats to make it 6-1.
All told in the disastrous third inning, Arrieta threw 37 pitches and allowed four hits, two walks and two stolen bases. He was removed from the game with one out in the fourth after allowing a homer to Napoli and a single to Moreland. He walked off the field to a smattering of boos. It was quite the contrast to the scene several hours earlier when Britton strolled off the mound to a thunderous ovation.
"It's a little disappointing, but I started really well, I was on a roll early," Arrieta said. "It just kind of got away from me. I'll be all right, just got to make quality pitches. That's a great lineup, and when I did miss, they didn't. That's what good hitters are going to do."