Sunday, June 8, 2008

O's Finally Backs Guthrie, Beat Jays

TORONTO -- Finally, Baltimore ace Jeremy Guthrie can greet a storyline he can stomach.

The Orioles have struggled to score all season with their Opening Day starter on the hill, but reserve outfielder Jay Payton stepped into that void Saturday and rendered it unrecognizable. Payton boosted his starter with five RBIs en route to a 9-5 win over the Blue Jays, singlehandedly providing more offense than Guthrie has seen in most of his starts.

"He's usually going out against one of their best pitchers, so it's been tough for us to score a lot of runs for him," said Payton, who finished with his second five-RBI game of the season. "Today, it was nice to go out against a great pitcher and to be able to push some runs across. Hopefully we can get a few more for [Guthrie] down the road."

"For the most part, we're in every game," added Guthrie. "Even if we score one or two runs -- or four or five -- it seems like we're always competitive. So to our hitters and to myself, it's not as big of a deal as maybe other people make it to be."

Big deal or not, Baltimore (31-30) hadn't opened up a four-run lead for Guthrie (3-6) before Saturday and had only scored six runs for him on two occasions -- both of which turned out to be no-decisions. Meanwhile, the right-hander had seen his team score fewer than three runs in seven of his 14 starts and had lost four games by two runs or fewer.

"It's fun to compete," he said. "And when the games are close, it really does make the game feel enjoyable. You'd love to win, but at the same time, competing and really being in a dogfight each game is also enjoyable and rewarding."

The two teams were locked in a tie game when Payton came through for the first time, lacing a two-run single in the third inning. Payton stepped up again in the fifth, drilling a three-run double that spurred a five-run rally. Baltimore chased A.J. Burnett (5-6) in that inning, and Guthrie went into the late going with his first significant lead of the year.

The Orioles didn't stop there, though, punching another run off the Toronto bullpen in the sixth inning. Guthrie made it all stand up, holding the Blue Jays (32-32) to a run in the first inning and not much after that. Five of the home team's six hits off Guthrie went for singles, and Baltimore's starter retired 15 of the final 17 batters he faced.

"I'd never had one so for sure it seems like a long time," Guthrie said of the rare luxury of a big lead. "They're not easy all the time, but hopefully you can make them look easy when you have a big lead and you continue to put up zeros."

"It's good that he had won the game, because he means a lot to our club," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley. "I don't care what the score is or the situation, he'll give you what he's got. But it's good for him and it's good for the team that we can score some runs. ... Once Guthrie got the lead, you knew he was going to stay right where he was."

Toronto couldn't even get runners back into scoring position against Guthrie. The Blue Jays advanced to second base in the second inning and then didn't do it again until the eighth, after Guthrie had been removed. Toronto scratched out four late runs to make the game appear cosmetically closer, and Guthrie completed seven innings for the sixth time.

"Either way, my goal is to attack them. But today, with the runs, it's nice to continue to try to get the first guy out and limit the damage while we're ahead," Guthrie said. "As the game went along, they took a little different approach. They were swinging a little bit earlier, which helped the pace of the game go while the lead was stretched out. It was a nice game."

The action turned for good in the fifth. With one out, the Orioles loaded the bases on two hits and a walk. Payton unloaded them with a gap double to left-center field. Burnett stayed in to give up two more run-scoring hits, and Baltimore's rally ended on a sacrifice fly to left field by Brian Roberts.

"I knew his pitch count was up a little bit," Payton said of Burnett. "Sometimes when a pitcher gets his count up, he's going to want to try to throw some more strikes so he can stay out there and get through five or six innings. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of that. I think a lot of guys in that inning hit first or second pitches."

"You don't really want to get two strikes on you, because [Burnett] has devastating stuff," said Trembley. "He throws 95, and he'll throw that curveball that will buckle you. You just have to show a lot of patience with him and you've got to fight off good pitches with two strikes. But more importantly with him, you can't chase pitches out of the strike zone."

The Orioles held on late -- surviving a Toronto rally -- and took their fourth win in their last five road games. They also won their second straight road series and will have a chance to earn their first road sweep of the season on Sunday.

"We've been getting really good pitching all year," said Payton. "And on this road trip we've been able to get some big hits and some good hitting. That's kind of what we've lacked a little bit in the past on the road."


Baltimore Orioles News