Orioles starter Zach Britton pitches against the visiting… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
Most of the Orioles avoid evaluating victories. They'll tell you that every win is important for a team seeking to remain within striking distance of the .500 mark and the rest of the American League East. They'll lean on the typical cliches uttered on a nightly basis in clubhouses throughout baseball.
But after completing a 3-2 victory and a three-game sweep Wednesday night over the can't-do-anything-right Oakland Athletics in front of an announced 11,760 at steamy Camden Yards, several Orioles acknowledged an extra bit of satisfaction.
Not only was it the Orioles' first three-game sweep of the A's in Baltimore since 1998, but it also avenged three losses at Oakland a week earlier and sent the visitors out of town with a nine-game losing streak.
"The first series we played them, I felt like we gave them all three games," said Orioles closer Kevin Gregg, who pitched a perfect ninth inning to pick up his 12th save and finalize rookie Zach Britton's long-awaited sixth win and a tremendous series for the bullpen. "We can all take getting beat. It's part of the game. We play so many, some days you just get beat. The ones that give you kind of a bitter taste in your mouth are the games that you feel like you gave away. To come out and play the way we did these three games was nice."
The tone all series was set by the Orioles starters, who allowed just four earned runs in 16 2/3 innings before giving way to a bullpen that has surrendered just one unearned run in 10 1/3 innings over the past three nights and just three earned runs over the past 35 innings spanning 10 games.
"We scored 11 runs in three games and won three games," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We were real frustrated coming out of Oakland, and to be able to kind of return the favor here, I know it felt good for our guys."
The Orioles (29-31) were outscored 16-8 in losing three games in Oakland, which started a five-game skid. In the sweep clincher May 29, the A's battered Britton for career highs in runs (six) and hits (10). After the game, Britton said the 6-4 loss was "all on me" and lamented the Orioles' getting swept by a team "we should handle."
Britton did just that Wednesday, limiting the punchless A's (27-36) to one earned run on four hits and two walks while striking out a career-high-tying six in 6 1/3 innings. With the help of Mark Reynolds' two-run homer, he improved to 6-4, ending a six-start winless streak and earning his first victory since May 1.
"Thankfully, we swept them right after I said that, but I do think this is a team that we can handle if we pitch well, we hit well," Britton said. "This is a team we should beat, especially if we are going to contend with the Bostons and New Yorks. This a team that we need to handle."
Partly because of the stifling heat -- the game-time temperature was 96 degrees -- Showalter removed him with one out and man on in the seventh despite the rookie lefty's having thrown just 79 pitches. Britton slammed his fist into his glove when he saw Showalter emerge from the dugout.
However, he couldn't quibble with the results as Jim Johnson retired Adam Rosales and Cliff Pennington on groundouts.
"He was laboring a little bit," Showalter said of Britton. "Also, a lot of it had to do with the option I had with the off day [Thursday]. I just didn't like the Rosales matchup. I thought he had centered him up and had some good at-bats against him and looked pretty comfortable against left-handed pitching
I wanted to get him out of there on a positive note. But I think the biggest thing was the option we had to go to. J.J.'s been pretty good for us."
Johnson allowed one run in the eighth after left fielder Nolan Reimold misplayed a leadoff liner, enabling rookie Jemile Weeks to reach third base. Coco Crisp followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the Orioles' deficit to 3-2. However, that's where it stayed as Johnson struck out the dangerous Josh Willingham with a man on to end the eighth and Gregg retired all three A's in the ninth on ground balls.
"We've had a good streak, and we're trying to keep it going," Johnson said. "There's ups and downs in the season, and we're just trying to keep on moving."
The Orioles got all their offense in the bottom of the third inning as they broke open a pitchers' duel between lefties Britton and Josh Outman (1-1). Vladimir Guerrero led off the inning with a sharp single before he advanced to second with two outs on a wild pitch.
J.J. Hardy scored him with an RBI single. Reynolds punished Outman's next pitch -- a fastball in the lower quadrant of the strike zone -- into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.
"I don't think he's missing mistakes as much," Showalter said. "So many times over the course of the season, he's fouled a ball back and everybody in the dugout, 'Oh, ah, just missed it.' Well, I think he's getting a little tired of that 'just missed it' stuff. He's been doing some damage."
Reynolds leads the team with 10 homers, three coming in the Orioles' past five games. He has also driven in eight of the Orioles' past 20 runs. On this night, he was a big part of the Orioles' gaining some retribution against the A's.
"That road trip, I think, was kind of one of those things where we go out, West Coast, first time out there. And I don't think we were ready to play at all, especially in the cold weather," Reynolds said. "We get back home and we are playing good defense and our bullpen has been unbelievable lately. That's the formula for winning."