George Sherrill warmed up in the Fenway Park bullpen on Friday night, oblivious to the tactical discussion going on in the dugout. Manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz debated the value of having Sherrill pitch in a non-save situation against the Red Sox, and the southpaw wound up with a one-out appearance that sealed a 7-3 win.
"They called and said I was [coming in], then they called and said I wasn't," said Sherrill about the drama that played out beyond the bullpen door. "Then they called and said I was. There was a bunch of phone calls there in the ninth."
Sherrill, Baltimore's All-Star relief ace, had struggled through a blown save on Thursday and worked early on Friday to find a solution to his late-first-half malaise. The left-hander had blown four saves in his 11 previous appearances, leading Trembley to look for a non-pressure situation in which to re-establish Sherrill's confidence and get him back on the right track.
And perhaps unbeknown to the manager, Sherrill had already found a mechanical edge. Sherrill and Kranitz worked through an early bullpen session on Friday in which the coach pointed out a small flaw in his pitcher's delivery, and the first-year closer credited the adjustment with allowing him to drive his legs and his shoulder through his motion and toward home plate.
"Kranny noticed something, and we fixed it," Sherrill said. "In Spring Training, I just really worked on having my shoulder and my hip closed off. For some reason, my shoulder had drifted back open. I just had to close it back off."
Once he closed it off, he had a chance to close out the game. Baltimore had scored an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning, leading Trembley and Kranitz to confer and decide whether it was worth throwing Sherrill an entire inning. Trembley's original instinct was to give his closer a full inning, but he listened to Kranitz and let Jim Johnson start the bottom half of the frame.
That approach paid immediate dividends, as Johnson got two quick outs on a ground ball and a strikeout. But then he allowed a single to Julio Lugo, and shortstop Brandon Fahey made an error on a ball that went directly between his legs. Trembley then summoned Sherrill, and one walk later, Sherrill struck out Kevin Youkilis to end the game.
"I'm still going to the same guys that were in there whether it was a one-run game or a two-run game," Trembley said of his team's late add-on runs. "We had it pretty well set on [which] guys were going to come in tonight. ... It's a tough place to play, but the guys kept their poise, and they play as a team. Everybody had a good attitude today."
They had that attitude despite entering the contest with five-game losing streak, and they made it work for them. The Orioles faced Clay Buchholz on Friday for the first time since he no-hit them last September, and his bid for history ended much quicker this time. Brian Roberts worked a six-pitch at-bat and drilled a hit to lead off the game.
The switch-hitting second baseman had a hand in three of his team's first four runs, besting Buchholz (2-4) and handing southpaw Brian Burres an early advantage. Roberts doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the Orioles' two-run first inning, and he tripled in a run and scored on another sacrifice fly in the fifth to push Baltimore ahead for good.
The Orioles got a two-run single from Fahey in the eighth and a sacrifice fly in the ninth to account for the final margin.
Nick Markakis saw his 17-game hitting streak come to an end after going 0-for-2 with three walks.
"Fahey came up with a real big hit for us to add on those couple of runs," said Roberts. "In this place, you never know how many is enough, so you want to keep tacking on. That was a big two-out hit for us."
"I don't remember last Sept. 1. We don't talk about that anymore," said Trembley. "Tonight, we worked the count, and we didn't chase pitches. We were just patient. Roberts got us started in the first inning and worked the count real good. He stole a base, and [Adam] Jones got him in. We just got his pitch count up and didn't chase bad pitches."
Burres, meanwhile, continued his enigmatic campaign. The left-hander pitched to a 2-1 record and 7.20 ERA in June and has delivered back-to-back solid outings since the start of July. Burres (7-5) handled the Red Sox early and pitched into the seventh inning for the first time since May 22, and he's lost just once in his last 10 starts.
The Red Sox scored twice in the second inning off Burres, using three hits and a ground ball to tie the game. Boston forged ahead in the fourth, when Lugo contributed his second run-scoring groundout of the evening. But that was all the home team could muster, and the Orioles improved to 2-8 against the Red Sox when Burres pitches.
"He wasn't real happy with me the last time he pitched and I took him out," said Trembley. "The next day he came in and talked to me about it, and I said, 'Hey, you've got to start getting left-handed hitters out. You've got to start not walking people in the bottom of the lineup, and you've got to start putting zeroes on the board if you don't want me to take you out. Keep the ball in the ballpark, pitch better and pitch deeper into the game. Show me you belong out there.' And he did tonight."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.