Somewhere around the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s game between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, I quipped there was only one thing missing from Zach Britton’s repertoire during an amazing first two months of his big league career.
Developing a pitch that would score some runs to help his cause.
Though his six innings of work against the Royals paled in comparison to his prior two starts in which he didn’t allow an earned run over 16 innings, Britton walked off the mound trailing 3-0 after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the sixth by getting Alex Gordon to pop to short. The Baltimore lineup had failed to score a single run for the young lefty in his last 27 1/3 innings of work.
Britton appeared on his way to suffering his third loss after allowing three runs and a career-high nine hits on a night in which he struggled to command his sinker and changeup. However, he had managed to keep his team in the game against opposing rookie Danny Duffy, who had stifled the Orioles through the first five innings of the game. Much like his prior three starts, scoring opportunities had been there — particularly a botched fifth inning in which Robert Andino bunted into a double play with two runners on and no outs — but the Orioles continued shooting blanks.
That is, until Britton reached the dugout in the middle of the sixth with his night finished after 101 pitches.
After wasting back-to-back brilliant outings from the young southpaw, the Orioles finally broke through in the sixth as Matt Wieters and Luke Scott plated the first two runs with Britton still in the game since his victory over the Chicago White Sox on May 1. At the time, it wasn’t enough to get the starter off the hook, but it put the Orioles in position for the ninth-inning heroics to follow.
Facing Royals closer Joakim Soria, who hadn’t allowed a run in 12 career outings against Baltimore, pinch-hitter Felix Pie tied the game with an RBI-double and Adam Jones blasted a two-run homer to dead center to give the Orioles an improbable 5-3 win, their first win of the season when trailing after eight innings. Though it didn’t net Britton a victory, it was a small token of support after nearly a month of attrition.
And it came against one of the better closers in the American League, albeit one who’s struggled in the first two months of the season.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to do it against the good guys,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We talk about it all the time. I don’t want to hear people talk about, ‘Oh, we face such good pitching in the American League East every night.’
“Guess what? That’s what it is. You’ve got to beat the good guys, too. That’s why they call it the big leagues. I don’t like our chances every night down by one run against [Soria], I can tell you that, but we were fortunate.”
As Jones was mobbed by his teammates at home plate in celebration, the Orioles had finally broken through to pick up their rookie pitcher.
And earn their most exciting victory of the season.