Guthrie's gem gives Showalter historic win

Guthrie's gem gives Showalter historic win

BALTIMORE -- While much has been made of the drop in the starters' ERAs, the emergence of timely hitting and a newfound swagger that comes with a total team turnaround, manager Buck Showalter likes to point out that the bottom line is whether or not the Orioles get a win.

If that's the barometer, Showalter's O's are passing with flying colors.

It is impossible to try to explain what this O's squad has done since Showalter assumed the helm Aug. 2. But of the list of superlatives, incredible, unbelievable, exciting, the most impressive of all is this: unprecedented.

Friday's 2-1 win in Game 2 over the Tigers -- part of a doubleheader sweep -- improves the Orioles to 33-22 under Showalter, making him the first manager since 1900 to take over a team in August or later and win more games the rest of the way than that team had won before he got there.

With two games remaining, the Orioles (65-95) have also surpassed last season's win total, marking the first year-to-year improvement since 2004.

"It's certainly newsworthy, I understand, but where we are, it's not going to really matter once we toe it up next February," Showalter said of the O's record, which was on pace for a 113-loss season as recently as July. "That's probably a question for somebody else. It's also a question for the end of next year. I hope we're better than this year next year."

The O's play as of late -- which includes their first winning August since 1997 -- certainly lends some credence.

"Neither last season nor this season did we win enough games to really go home and hang our hats high and feel good about ourselves," said starter Jeremy Guthrie, who picked up his eighth win in 13 outings. "But we have played really good baseball down the stretch, and if that's what we are going to play next year, than good things are ahead for us."

On Friday night, Guthrie gave a glimpse of just how good things can be, tossing eight scoreless innings and holding the Tigers to two hits to cap an impressive second-half. He used 80 pitches to get through the first six innings, allowing a pair of singles and working around three defensive miscues to stymie Detroit and secure the sweep.

"Jeremy should have had a complete game," Showalter said. "We catch the baseball better and his pitch counts [in the late 80s after eight]. ... Very seldom do you look up there and see three errors, zeros on the other side and win a baseball game, and have some of the [left on base numbers] we had. But Jeremy and Koji [Uehara] made it matter. They were the difference."

Guthrie, who gave the Orioles at least six innings in 28 of 32 starts, has been a rock for a rotation that has been equal parts marvelous and dismal. Following a 3-10 record and 4.77 ERA in the first half, Guthrie has embodied a new start to the season following the All-Star break. And he has delivered, going 8-4 with a 2.76 ERA in 14 second-half starts. On Friday, he retired 15 of the final 16 batters he faced to put an emphatic end on 2010.

"I was able to accomplish what I wanted, which is to be more aggressive," Guthrie said of his second-half surge. "I felt like something clicked in terms of feeling that confidence again, if I am aggressive and throw strikes and try to keep it down more consistently, then good things will happen."

Guthrie's outing came on the heels of Chris Tillman's seven innings of one-run baseball in Game 1 and Kevin Millwood's seven scoreless against the Rays on Wednesday, impressive season finales for each respective arm.

"It all started on that mound," said center fielder Adam Jones, who went a combined 5-for-8 with four RBIs in the twin bill.

"My question is, why didn't we have the same mentality early in the year? It's an easy question to ask, hard question to get an answer to," Jones added. "We're just playing better baseball right now. Better late than never."

Asked if he could come up with an answer as to why the Orioles play has improved so dramatically Jones said simply: "nope."

"It goes to how we weren't playing good baseball as a whole," Jones said of an Orioles squad that started the season 2-16 and has been in the American League East cellar ever since. "Now, we are playing good baseball. I think we got that kick in the pants, it's a little more serious than what you think. It's not just a fun ride being in the big leagues, everyone is rah-rah. No. You produce, you play. You don't, you sit. Or you get sent down. And that's how it's been around here over the last two months."

The Orioles offense -- a half-hour removed from a 10-run output -- posted eight hits in the first six frames, but Tigers starter Rick Porcello limited them to only Nick Markakis' solo third-inning homer.

The Orioles hit into double plays in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings -- twice ending the frame and erasing leadoff hits, and prematurely ended another inning in the seventh. The Orioles did manage to tack on a run in that frame -- courtesy of Julio Lugo's first-pitch RBI single -- which would hold up as the decisive run after Uehara allowed a two-out solo homer to Don Kelly.

"That's what's going to have to happen for us to get where we want to go," Showalter said of a pitching staff which has a 3.68 ERA since his arrival. "It evolves around, obviously, pitching. Giving your team a chance to win and making leads matter late in games. It's been impressive, and we hope it carries over, because that's what we're going to have to have to go where we want to go."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.