Nick Markakis receives congratulations from the Orioles dugout,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With the hardest schedule in the major leagues over the final month and a half, the Orioles will have a definitive say in who makes the playoffs from the American League.
And the club that had been little more than a pushover for the first four months of the season suddenly looks like one prepared to make life very difficult on the A.L. heavyweights. Jeremy Guthrie pitched six shutout innings without his best stuff and the Orioles knocked around James Shields to secure a series-opening 5-0 victory before an announced 24,277 on "Turn Back the Clock Night" at Tropicana Field.
Clad in the all orange jerseys that the 1971 team wore a handful of times, Guthrie allowed just two hits to improve to 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break. Koji Uehara and Michael Gonzalez then did the rest as the Orioles (41-75) registered their second shutout of the season and won for the ninth time in 11 games since Buck Showalter took over as manager. It is the best 11-game stretch since they won nine of 11 games from April 24-May 7, 2005.
The Orioles totaled 12 hits with Luke Scott and Felix Pie having three each. Scott went 3-for-3 with a solo homer and a walk and Pie went 3-for-4 with an RBI, two doubles and a stolen base while being tested early and often in left field.
Adam Jones also hit a two-run triple as part of a three-run first against Shields, who allowed four runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings.
It was a grind at times for Guthrie, who walked four batters, one more free pass than he had issued in his previous five starts combined. However, he allowed just two hits and one of them was a result of Pie misplaying Matt Joyce's flyball into a triple in the sixth inning. Pie did quickly make amends, turning in a running catch to take away an RBI from Willy Aybar and end the inning.
In his last 41 2/3 innings, Guthrie (7-11) has allowed only 32 hits.
The Orioles managed just one run and six hits against Indians rookie starter Jeanmar Gomez and two relievers in a 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night that broke a four-game winning streak.
Their opposition last night figured to be much more difficult with Shields on the mound for Tampa Bay. While Shields has struggled for much of the season and was coming off an outing where he allowed eight runs to the Toronto Blue Jays and tied a modern day major league record by surrendering six home runs, he's always been tough on the Orioles.
He entered last night 7-2 in 17 career starts against the Orioles and Tampa Bay had won 11 of his last 12 outings against them.
But the Orioles jumped on the Rays early and took a 3-0 first-inning lead courtesy of four straight two-out hits following Shields pickoff of Nick Markakis at first base. Ty Wigginton got it started with a bloop single to right and then Luke Scott beat the infield shift and lined a single to right field.
Adam Jones drove them both in with a triple to the right-field corner. On Shields' next pitch, Felix Pie stroked an RBI double down the right-field line. Shields got Matt Wieters to foul out for the final out of the inning, but not before he gave up three runs and threw 34 pitches.
The Orioles were denied another scoring opportunity in the third, thanks to the superb defense of Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist. He made a superb diving play and got the lead runner at second on Adam Jones' sharp grounder to Zobrist's left. Then, after Pie's second double of the night put runners on second and third with two outs, Zobrist again ranged to his left and made a diving stop of Wieters one-hopper and then got the out at first base.
The Orioles did tack on a run in the fourth inning, which started with Cesar Izturis hitting a double and then going to third when right fielder Matt Joyce bobbled the ball. Rookie Josh Bell then looped an outside pitch into left field for an RBI single and a 4-0 lead.
They had other opportunities to expand on that lead and make it a relatively drama-free night. Markakis hit into a double play to end the fourth inning. Adam Jones did the same in the fifth after Scott just missed a solo homer, but settled for a single.
Then, the Orioles had men on first and second with nobody out in the sixth after Shields allowed a leadoff single to Pie and walked Wieters. The walk to Wieters, which came on a 10-pitch at-bat, ended Shields night.
Former Oriole Lance Cormier entered and after squaring to bunt on Cormier's first pitch, Izturis lined a ball right at the pitcher, who caught it and then flipped to first to double up Wieters. After Bell worked a walked, Brian Roberts lined out to Zobrist as another Orioles' scoring opportunity went by the wayside.