Britton strong again as Orioles beat Red Sox, 4-1

Left-hander sets franchise record for April wins by rookie; offense has 3 sac flies

  • Zach Britton pitches against the visiting Red Sox during the Orioles' 4-1 victory. Britton allowed one run in six innings.
Zach Britton pitches against the visiting Red Sox during the… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
April 27, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

On nights like this, it's easy to forget that Zach Britton, the 23-year-old rookie with the hard sinker and steely nerves, wasn't even on the Orioles' Opening Day roster and has been a big leaguer for just over three weeks.

It wasn't that Britton was flawless or dominant in the Orioles' much-needed 4-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox before an announced 18,938 at Camden Yards.

He allowed one run and five hits, but some deep pitch counts forced him out of the game after six innings. His failure to field a come-backer and hold a base runner in the fourth inning accounted for the Red Sox's lone run.

But facing an opponent that has long given young Orioles pitchers fits, Britton never flinched, not after Brian Roberts' error prolonged the fourth inning, not after walking Dustin Pedroia to load the bases and bring the dangerous Adrian Gonzalez to the plate in the fifth, and not after Carl Crawford came to the plate as the potential go-ahead run in the sixth.

"The one thing I learned about him is he doesn't care who it is," said first baseman Derrek Lee, who had two of the Orioles' 12 hits off Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz (1-3). "He's going to go out and execute his game plan. His sinker, you don't see a ball with that much movement from a lefty very often. He's going to be tough all year. He just has a great arm."

Britton's six strong innings were followed by two dominant frames from Jim Johnson and a perfect ninth inning for closer Kevin Gregg, who picked up his third save. The victory, which ended Boston's five-game winning streak and dealt the Red Sox (10-12) just their second loss in 10 games, was just the Orioles' third win in 15 games.

They are 9-12 on the season, and four of those wins belong to Britton. He is the first rookie in franchise history to win four games in April.

"Obviously, I didn't know that," said Britton, who is 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA and will make his next start Sunday against the White Sox in Chicago. "It's pretty special, obviously. The fact I am here is awesome. I was expecting to be down in [Triple-A] Norfolk, but I am just trying to make the best of the opportunity, and I think I have done that so far."

Britton was backed by an opportunistic lineup that frequently put Buchholz into trouble and got the four runs with the help of small ball.

Catcher Matt Wieters put the Orioles on the board in the second inning with an infield single that hit off first base and bounced away from Gonzalez. That made Wieters 7-for-7 with 11 RBIs with runners in scoring position this year, though he did make an out with runners on second and third in the seventh.

Adam Jones -- whose gritty 11-pitch battle with Buchholz in the second inning teammates credited with setting the tone even though it resulted in a strikeout -- had sacrifice flies in the third and fifth innings. Mark Reynolds added a sacrifice fly in the seventh to score the Orioles' fourth run.

Vladimir Guerrero had three hits, and Luke Scott, Lee and Wieters each had two. The 12 hits Buchholz allowed were a career high.

"We're a hit away from opening it up a little bit, but Buchholz is pretty good," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "So is [Josh] Beckett and so is [Jon] Lester and so is [John] Lackey and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka. It's the big leagues, so you've got to give them credit, too. But we scored a run to get up early, just something to give Zach a little margin for error. He was facing a lot of left-handed hitters tonight, and I thought he handled it well."

Of the 18 outs that Britton got, 11 came via ground balls and two came on strikeouts, showing that the young lefty's sinker was effective again.

"Put it this way: I can see why they like him," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He has got velocity, really good sink and poise. He was impressive. He has got that two-seamer with velocity. He stays down. And he is 90-95 [mph], left-handed, with movement. That's pretty good right there."

But even beyond his impressive repertoire of pitches, Britton's poise and confidence continue to impress his teammates. Both were on display in the top of the fifth inning when the Orioles clung to a 2-1 lead. Britton retired J.D. Drew and Crawford to get two quick outs.

Jason Varitek then lined a single into right, and Jacoby Ellsbury ripped a double past a lunging Lee at first base, putting runners on second and third. Britton got behind Dustin Pedroia and walked him on four pitches, bringing the left-handed-hitting Gonzalez to the plate.

"I definitely wasn't trying to walk [Pedroia], especially with a guy like Adrian Gonzalez [coming up]," Britton said. "But I wasn't going to give him anything good to hit, especially with the game close like that. Obviously, I feel a lot more comfortable with the lefty, even if it is Gonzalez, but I wasn't trying to walk him."

Britton got ahead of Gonzalez 1-2, then got him to roll over an outside sinker that Roberts handled and flipped to shortstop Robert Andino on second base for the final out of the inning.

"In pressure situations, that's when a hanging curveball or poor execution often come in, but he beared down," said Johnson, who retired six of the seven hitters he faced, four by strikeouts. "It's a little cliched to say that he stays within himself, but really, one of the hardest things to do in baseball is to take that foot off the gas pedal instead of overdoing it and overthrowing and trying to do too much in that situation. He did a great job of it."

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