Britton solid as Orioles hold on to beat Twins, 5-4

Wieters has 2-run homer, Jones has 2 RBIs as team wins second straight

  • Orioles starter Zach Britton pitches against the visiting Twins. He allowed three runs in six innings to earn the victory in the Orioles' 5-4 win.
Orioles starter Zach Britton pitches against the visiting… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
April 20, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

By the end of six innings Wednesday night, Zach Britton's voice was barely audible and his body was drained.

After battling flu symptoms for the past couple of days and uneven command for much of the night, Britton put a tight game against the Minnesota Twins in the hands of the bullpen and sweated out the final nine outs.

It was the final one that raised the anxiety level at Camden Yards the most, but Denard Span's drive off closer Kevin Gregg landed in the glove of a running Adam Jones at the right-center-field wall and the Orioles held on for a closer-than-necessary 5-4 victory in front of an announced 13,825.

The victory, which included a clutch two-run double by Jones and homers by Wieters and Vladimir Guerrero, is the Orioles' second consecutive after they had lost eight in a row. The Orioles (8-9) will go for the series victory over struggling Minnesota tonight with top starter Jeremy Guthrie on the mound.

"He obviously wasn't 100 percent tonight," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton. "You could hear him in the dugout, and when [pitching coach Mark Connor] went out to visit him, he was wheezing pretty good. But I'm sure the Minnesota Twins don't want to hear it. Like I said earlier, everybody's got people who aren't 100 percent, and you've got to work your way through it. For him to give us that many innings, we were fortunate."

Struggling for much of the night with his command, Britton (3-1) allowed three earned runs, five hits and three walks while striking out three over six innings. Ensuring that the rookie left-hander got his third win in four big league starts, Jim Johnson pitched a perfect seventh, Koji Uehara allowed a run but stranded two base runners in the eighth and Gregg retired all three hitters he faced in the ninth to pick up his second save in three tries.

However, it was very much in doubt when Span lifted a pitch deep to right-center. Jones, who was playing shallow, sprinted back and caught it before he made contact with the wall. It wasn't quite as dramatic as Nick Markakis' leaping catch at the wall to secure Gregg's first save in the second game of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays, but it was another fine defensive play by Jones regardless.

"I thought at the very worst it would be off the wall." Showalter said. "I'm glad he didn't hit it two hours earlier. The ball was flying. It was a weird wind earlier, so we were fortunate."

Said Wieters: "I knew it was going to be close, but I knew if it stayed in the park that Adam was going to run it down. I'm just glad it stayed in the park."

For a second straight night, Wieters got one of the Orioles' biggest hits, launching Nick Blackburn's 2-1 pitch in the right-center-field seats in the second inning. The two-run shot was Wieters' third homer of the season and his second in two nights. It also improved him to 6-for-6 with 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position this season.

Two batters earlier, Jones had given the Orioles a 2-1 lead by lining Blackburn's two-strike offering down the right-field line for a two-run double.

The Orioles scored their final run in the third inning when Guerrero crushed Blackburn's 0-1 pitch deep into the left-field seats for his third homer of the season and his second in as many nights.

At that point, the Orioles led 5-1, Blackburn (1-3) didn't appear to be long for the game and Britton was facing a Twins lineup that is last in the American League in runs and was without four of its top performers, including perennial All-Stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

However, it was clear pretty early that Britton was without his best stuff as well, though he got through. A key sequence came in the third inning when the Twins (6-12) had men on the corner with one out and Michael Cuddyer at the plate.

In his first at-bat, Cuddyer had driven a sinker from Britton that didn't sink enough into the seats. This time, he made good contact with Britton's changeup, but his hard grounder was right at shortstop Robert Andino, who initially bobbled it before recovering to start the inning-ending double play.

"He gets a hit there, who knows what happens?" Britton said.

Britton cruised into the sixth inning, when he appeared to run out of gas. He issued a leadoff walk to Jason Kubel and a one-out free pass to Cuddyer. Danny Valencia bounced a two-run single up the middle to cut the Orioles' lead to 5-3. Britton retired Luke Hughes to end the inning and his evening after 88 pitches.

"It could have been better," Britton said. "I wasn't happy with the walks, especially with the 5-1 lead, and you put guys on base and it ends up being a close game like that, so I wasn't happy with the wildness. But we scored a lot of runs, and [it] kept us in the game.

"Yeah, I am exhausted. I was hacking up I don't even know what in the dugout. I am pretty weak."

But all that mattered in the end was that the Orioles got the victory and more proof that Britton can succeed even without his best stuff.

"He's a sinkerball guy, and he's not going to throw a sinker on the knees every time," Wieters said. "So he's going to give up some ground-ball hits and some broken-bat hits. That's the life of a sinkerball pitcher. He's going to have to get through that. When your bad nights are six innings and three runs, that's not too bad."

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