Guthrie pitches gem as Orioles open 2011 season with 4-1 win over Rays

Starter throws 8 scoreless innings

Roberts, Markakis each have 2 RBIs

  • Jeremy Guthrie delivers in the third inning against the Rays.
Jeremy Guthrie delivers in the third inning against the Rays. (US Presswire )
April 02, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The sobering news hit the Orioles even before David Price's first pitch, providing an ominous start to a 2011 season that was supposed to be about progress and realized promise.

Brian Matusz, the team's No. 2 starter, would begin the season on the disabled list, further depleting a rotation that is dangerously thin.

Over the next two-plus hours, the leader of that staff, Jeremy Guthrie, didn't just lift the spirits of the rotation, which now includes top prospect Zach Britton in Matusz's spot. He carried his team to an Opening Day victory that once again proved, the Orioles will go only as far as their pitching allows them.

Guthrie authored the best Opening Day performance by an Oriole in 19 years, throwing eight shutout innings in the Orioles' 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays before an announced 34,078 at Tropicana Field.

"I've seen him pretty good, last August and September, but knowing the margin of error, on the road like this. Quite frankly, it is a little pick-me-up after the news with [Matusz] today," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Before last night, the last Orioles' starter to go eight or more scoreless innings on Opening Day was Rick Sutcliffe, who threw a complete-game shutout in the Camden Yards opener in 1992.

Guthrie, who had a 6.43 ERA this spring, allowed just three hits and walked one, retiring 17 of 18 hitters after Dan Johnson doubled off the top of the right-field wall with one out in the second inning. Commanding all of his pitches and working in his secondary stuff to compliment his fastball the second time threw the Rays' order, he threw 67 of his 94 pitches for strikes.

"He was really good," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "I haven't seen so many 0-2, 1-2 counts since [Greg] Maddux."

Nick Markakis gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead with a two-out RBI single in the third and expanded the visitor's advantage to four runs with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. One batter before, Brian Roberts tripled in two runs with a shot to the left center field gap. Price gave up only one run to the Orioles in two starts last season spanning 15 innings. He also had allowed just seven earned runs in 32 1/3 career innings against the Orioles.

The Orioles improved to 36-22 all-time on Opening Day and snapped a three-game road losing streak in season openers. That included last year's demoralizing defeat here when newly-signed closer Michael Gonzalez couldn't hold a ninth-inning lead, setting the tone for one of the worst starts in franchise history.

"I was outpitched tonight, that's for sure," Price said. "Guthrie was on his game and when a guy like that is on his game, it's tough to hit."

Said Roberts: "We can't expect that every day, but I think we believe that Guthrie can beat anybody. That's why he's starting today. He pitched great last year and I don't expect him to do anything different this year."

The Rays' two, three and four hitters -- Johnny Damon, Evan Longoria, and Manny Ramirez -- went a combined 0-for-12 against Guthrie who struck out six total, including one on Ramirez to end the fourth that was his 500th strikeout of his career. Tampa Bay had more than one baserunner in just the eighth inning as B.J. Upton led off with a double and Reid Brignac drew a one-out walk. However, Guthrie, executing an inside pick-off move for the first time in his career, caught Upton breaking too early for third base. He then retired John Jaso for the final out of the frame.

His pitch count was reasonable enough for the Orioles to consider sending him out there for the complete-game bid, but Showalter buried that thought pretty early.

"As soon as I walked off the field, Buck shook my hand and told me I did a good job so I guess if I did think I was going to go back out there, it was cut off pretty quickly," Guthrie said. "I didn't' have the greatest stuff in the eighth. We had to make up a new way to get out of that inning. I think that's the first time I've ever successfully done an inside move. Sometimes you have to do that to try and figure out a way to get out of it. Fortunately, for us, that play worked in our favor and I was able to get that last out."

Jim Johnson relieved Guthrie for the ninth and his first pitch was sent into the right-field seats by Ben Zobrist, thwarting the Orioles' bid for their first Opening Day shutout since 2005. However, Johnson struck out Damon and Longoria, and then retired Ramirez on a groundout to end it.

The night started with the traditional Opening Day pomp and circumstance and the raising of the Rays' 2010 American League East champion banner up to the rafters in left field. Oriole fans made themselves heard with nice ovations for Showalter, who guided the team to a 34-23 finish last year, and new slugger Vladimir Guerrero.

The Orioles designated hitter got the Orioles' first hit with a leadoff single up the middle in the second inning. Fellow offseason acquisitions -- Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds -- combined for an 0-for-7 effort at the plate. New shortstop J.J. Hardy had a strong debut, going 1-for-2 with a double, walk and two runs to go along with a sterling play to throw out Ramirez on a groundball up the middle in the seventh.

But on this night, nothing was unseating Guthrie -- not the news that Matusz would miss some time, not the talented Price and certainly not a Rays' lineup that was reduced to meek swings and stares back at home plate umpire John Hirschbeck for much of the night.

"We've seen Guthrie with that kind of stuff, but to be able to do that on Opening Day against a good lineup, that's pretty special right there," said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters.

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