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Orioles thoughts and observations: The thriving bullpen, Darren O'Day, making history with defense

Give the Orioles credit where it is due. They’ve figured out a winning formula without the high-powered offense, with a banged up rotation and minus one of their top relievers.

What does it come down to? The same thing that propelled the Orioles to the playoffs last season: the bullpen.

Following their 5-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night -- arguably the biggest victory of the season -- the Orioles have won four of five so far on this 10-game road trip.

In those games, the Orioles bullpen has thrown 18 scoreless innings, including 6 1/3 scoreless frames Wednesday night.

There were times in the late innings when it seemed like Orioles manager Buck Showalter was teetering on disaster. Heralded rookie Kevin Gausman threw two innings on his second career major league back-to-back appearance. Oft-used right-hander Tommy Hunter also threw two innings in his second consecutive day of work. Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland has gone from left-handed long-reliever to pitching in a tied game for his third straight outing.

But it all worked out in producing a huge momentum-building win over a Boston team with the best record in the American League.

“You’re very cautious, and I’ve talked all through the year, very cautious about the health of your bullpen because there’s going to come a time in September where you’re going to have to go to the crop with them,” Showalter said. “It’s been one time up, into the game, minimum pitches, right back. It’s the stressfulness of it. Tomorrow may be a different story.”

They’ve been without one of their top set-up men, sidearmer Darren O’Day, for most of the past three weeks, and even though Showalter said O’Day was available Wednesday, he was staying away from him at all costs. Friday’s starter, Jason Hammel, would have entered the game before O’Day.

Speaking of the rotation, Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris have each dealt with physical issues, but they’ll pitch through nagging ailments to help get this team to the playoffs.

Norris would have been available in a pinch as well, which shows that he’s doing well from elbow tightness that cost him his last start. Gonzalez also made tremendous strides from a right groin strain over the past 24 hours.

The Orioles have turned the page on 2012, but the past two nights undoubtedly conjured up memories of last season, when the Orioles grinded out one-run games to a major league-record 29-9 mark.

This season, the Orioles are just 17-28 in one-run games and have lost 12 of their last 15 one-run contests.

Wednesday’s win was the 18thtime in their last 24 that a game was decided by two or fewer runs. They’re just 8-10 in those games.

Despite going 3-for-9, the Orioles are hitting just .222 (10-for-45) with runners in scoring position on the road trip. They haven't scored more than five runs in 15 straight games.

But none of those numbers mean much when you figure out ways to win games in spite of them.

“We could have had that same conversation last night,” Showalter said. “It’s the time of year where things could snowball, and it could really take off from a positive standpoint, but that wasn’t an easy jaunt there. We all know that, you watched it.”

Another key has been the Orioles defense. The Orioles recorded their 114therrorless game this season, breaking the 2008 Houston Astros’ season record for the most since 1900. The Orioles are on pace for a .992 fielding percentage, which would be the best in baseball history.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “Going into spring training we thought we have a good defensive team and we started working on it then. We had a few miscues here and there, but for the most part we’ve been solid all year. I think our pitching staff appreciates that, knowing that you can throw strikes and your defense is going to play behind you.”

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