Prior to Wednesday, Baltimore's Opening Day starter had only pitched twice against the team that drafted and developed him, and both were unsuccessful relief stints. Guthrie admitted to anxiety last season after one of those appearances and put that adversity to rest for good Wednesday, when he provided a dominant outing in a 6-1 win for the Orioles.
"The way he's pitching right now, I can't imagine he's nervous pitching against anybody," said right fielder Nick Markakis. "He's throwing the ball great, and that's all you can ask for. He's been consistent all year long."
Guthrie, who had never started against Cleveland before, said he tried to block the thoughts out of his mind.
"That's what I tend to do the first two days -- just really focus on what I have to do to get the hitters out," he said of his normal routine. "None of the other thoughts leaked into my mind, and when it did, I just had to refocus on keeping the ball down and executing pitches. That really helped me this year versus my thought process last year."
Guthrie may not have let it dominate his thoughts, but manager Dave Trembley said he could tell it meant a lot. Guthrie's Tribe tenure may have been marked by disappointment, but he has a new team now that sees him in a different light. And on Wednesday, the Orioles saw him as their staff ace and the man who could snap their three-game losing streak.
Perhaps most importantly, Guthrie saw himself that way and not as the former Cleveland phenom.
"I kind of had a sense of what this has meant to Guthrie, this entire process over the last year and this year," said Trembley. "I think he has established, for himself and for our team, an identity as an Oriole. I think that's important to him, and I thought that the approach that he had going into the game tonight was going to back that up.
"I just talked to him earlier and said, 'We've kind of gone full circle here and I know how important this was to you.' Guthrie doesn't say a whole lot, but he goes, 'It feels good.' I think that says something to everybody that knows Guthrie and what kind of person he is. It's got to feel good for him. He was the right guy out there for us tonight."
Guthrie, who has held the opposition to one earned run in four consecutive starts, was rarely challenged by the Indians. The right-hander ran up a high pitch count in the first four innings, but he held Cleveland to two runners in scoring position. The Indians (54-65) finally broke through in the fifth on a pair of doubles by Andy Marte and Grady Sizemore.
The Orioles had already given Guthrie all the offense he'd need. Designated hitter Aubrey Huff put Baltimore on the scoreboard with a solo home run in the second inning, and first baseman Kevin Millar scored on a groundout later in the same rally. The Orioles (57-62) were never really challenged for the rest of the game, mostly because of Guthrie.
The former first-round pick retired the final seven batters he faced before handing the lead to the Baltimore bullpen. Guthrie (10-8) has won seven of his past eight decisions and has allowed two earned runs or less in 10 of his past 14 starts, and not coincidentally, the Orioles are 10-4 over that span.
"What he's doing is, each time out there, he's making a statement to solidify himself as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation guy in either league," said Trembley, lauding his staff ace for his consistent effort. "For those of us who have had the opportunity to watch him, we've seen that develop out of him. I think the guy still's got some upside."
"It seems like it's quality start after quality start out there. He's our guy to look to to go out there and give us a good game," added Huff, who has hit 25 home runs this season. "He had some good games last year, but to me, he's a different pitcher. He looks like he's got more life on his fastball, and it has that bowling-ball effect where it just stays down at 97 [mph]."
Trembley elected to get Guthrie after seven innings, citing tightness in the starter's lower back. The manager went to veteran Jamie Walker to get two outs in the eighth, but Rocky Cherry walked a batter and uncorked a wild pitch to send him to second. With the tying run standing just two bases away, Cherry struck out Kelly Shoppach to end the threat.
Baltimore pulled away with four runs in the ninth inning, turning a tense save situation into a comfortable margin. Markakis stroked a two-run single to break the game open with two outs, and the Orioles used a Huff double and a wild pitch to score the final two runs. Baltimore closer George Sherrill worked the final three outs to seal the game.
"He's a big league hitter and he's become a very good situational hitter," Trembley said of Markakis. "And I think the other thing that he's done the last couple of months is work the count in his favor. He's not afraid to spit on pitches and he's not reluctant to hit with two strikes. I think that's the sign of a guy that is real confident."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.