Miguel Tejada, right, is congratulated by Matt Wieters after… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
Orioles manager Dave Trembley sat down at a table in front of reporters, just as he had done in the previous 20 home games, and uttered this phrase for perhaps the first time all year.
"Our situational hitting was the difference in the game," he said.
The Orioles, who have struggled to find any way to score this season, put up a run in the fourth and two more in the sixth without getting a hit in their 5-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night before an announced 14,686 at Camden Yards.
The rare display of good situational hitting, coupled with another quality start by Jeremy Guthrie and two strong relief outings, lifted the Orioles (15-31) to just their third win in the past 10 games.
"It was just a fundamentally good game by everybody, in every facet," said reliever Mark Hendrickson, who retired six of the seven hitters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings before Will Ohman worked a perfect ninth. "We scored when we had opportunities, we had solid defense, pitched well. If we can consistently focus on that, and do that, we are going to win games. And that's what we haven't been doing the first seven or eight weeks."
In a meeting before the game, Trembley, whose job status dominated Monday's day off, urged his players to learn from the first 45 games and focus on playing better fundamental baseball going forward.
Calling Tuesday night "the first game with that approach," Trembley watched the Orioles tie the score in the fourth against Dallas Braden on back-to-back walks to start the inning and then a run-scoring throwing error by A's shortstop Cliff Pennington.
They also caught some good fortune when Braden, making his third start since throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays, was removed by manager Bob Geren after just four innings because of a sore ankle. Braden entered the night 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA in six career starts against the Orioles.
With Braden done for the night, A's reliever Tyson Ross (1-3) entered a tie game in the bottom of the sixth and started by walking Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada on eight pitches and then throwing a wild pitch.
Ty Wigginton scored Markakis with a sacrifice fly to right, and Adam Jones drove in Tejada with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Orioles tacked on two more runs in the eighth as Markakis hit a solo homer, just his third home run of the season and his first since May 1, and Matt Wieters connected for an RBI double off the scoreboard in right. Those were the Orioles' only extra-base hits of the night.
"We got the guys on in the right situations, took advantage of some wild pitches and some walks and our hitters did a good job in those situations," said Markakis, who was 2-for-2 and reached base four times. "Those are things you need to do to win ballgames, and today was a good example of it."
The two runs in the sixth were a nice reward for Guthrie, who was in the dugout after stranding another base runner in the top of the inning, knowing that he was done for the night. It wasn't always pretty as he went to numerous three-ball counts and needed 114 pitches to get through six innings.
However, Guthrie (3-4) was at his best with runners on base, as he scattered six hits, three walks and a hit batsman and allowed just the one run on Mark Ellis' RBI groundout in the second.
"It's a confidence-booster to know that you don't have to be at your best every single time to compete and keep your team in the game, and that's what it was tonight," Guthrie said. "I just really scuffled. I just could not put away anybody [and] ran a lot of high pitch counts in the process."
Shaky or not, it was Guthrie's third straight start in which he allowed one earned run or fewer, leaving his ERA at 3.64. In comparison, his ERA after 10 starts during 2009 was 4.90. Overall, he has eight quality starts in his 10 outings this year, compared with four at this point last year. He surrendered 11 homers in his first 10 starts last year; he has allowed seven this season.
"You have to battle through, and there were times last year that I battled very well also and there were times where I didn't," Guthrie said. "I wouldn't necessarily say this was something I wouldn't or couldn't have accomplished last year, but certainly, in the majority of my starts, I wasn't able to do it as well as I did tonight."
That also holds true for the Orioles' offense, which had found every way possible to squander scoring opportunities during the first 45 games of the season. For one day at least, they turned the tables on an opponent known for manufacturing runs by playing fundamentally sound baseball.
"Oakland's forte is work the count, get the guy's pitch count up, and they certainly did that," Trembley said. "We turned it around and did a little bit of that ourselves, which proved to be the difference in the game."
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