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BAL@TB: Britton fans six in his Major League debut

ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time 23-year-old Orioles pitcher Zach Britton was at Tropicana Field, he was a young kid in the left-field stands hoping to see Wade Boggs record his 3,000th hit. Britton wasn't privy to Boggs' milestone that day, but on Sunday afternoon, the touted young lefty added a much more personal accomplishment inside the Rays' home: Major League winning pitcher.

Buoyed by a three-run seventh inning, Britton held a banged-up Tampa Bay team to one run over six innings in his big league debut, capping an Orioles series sweep with a 5-1 win and marking the first time the organization has started 3-0 since 1997.

It was an impressive debut, no doubt. But what was even more eye-opening was the way Britton --a ground-ball specialist -- was able to succeed without his trademark sinker, showing the poise of a Major League veteran.

"It was really impressive," catcher Matt Wieters said. "The way he was able to control his secondary stuff was the most telling. Everybody knew how good his fastball was coming out of spring. He was getting behind a little bit today, but he was able to rely on his secondary stuff, which is what he's going to need at this level to be able to be successful."

Britton, who pitched to a staff-best 1.35 ERA this spring, was too amped up to throw his sinker for strikes and had to rely on a steady dose of offspeed pitches to keep the Rays at bay. He looked, as teammate Mark Reynolds put it, like he had been here before.

"[At first], I was disappointed that I didn't have the sinker," Britton said. "But the guys were like, 'Hey, think about it. You can pitch here without your best pitch.'And that's something I'll take out of today."

And the Orioles, who flew back to Baltimore after the game, will take a trio of outstanding starts. Coupled with Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman's respective outings, the O's rotation held the Rays to one run on six hits and seven walks over 20 innings in the series. The trio also combined for 17 strikeouts.

"Matt Wieters just does a tremendous job with those guys," pitching coach Mark Connor raved. "He doesn't let them get withered. ... He's not going to let these guys get beat with something they shouldn't get beat with. For three nights, I sat there and just marveled at the way he called the ballgame."

Britton, whose nerves settled down after the first inning, ran into trouble in the third after issuing a pair of walks to bottom-of-the-order hitters Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld. Following a brief mound meeting with Wieters and Connor, the Rays put runners on the corners courtesy of Upton's broken-bat fielder's choice, which dropped into shallow right field. Elliot Johnson put down a safety squeeze bunt on the next pitch, scoring Joyce and leaving Britton -- who fielded the ball -- with a pair of baserunners and only one out.

But Britton escaped before Tampa Bay could do any further damage, as Wieters nabbed Upton on an attempted steal of third and Ben Zobrist, the Rays' hottest hitter, went down swinging.

"I don't know how many people he had here that flew in," manager Buck Showalter said of Britton, who estimated he left about 30 tickets. "I was thinking about that in the dugout. You pull as much for him as you do for the Orioles."

"You see [Derrek] Lee come in and say a little something to him [in the third inning], you see Matty go out there and slow him down. Those are the big things people bring other than just statistics. And I think Zach feeds off of that."

When all was said and done, Britton -- who struck out six in the 96-pitch outing -- watched from the dugout as the club secured his first big league victory. He also got the best of mound counterpart Wade Davis, who was tagged with four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.

"I made some mistakes in that last inning," Davis said. "And made some bad pitches to good hitters."

Three of Davis' charged runs came in the seventh, as Baltimore broke a 1-1 tie courtesy of Reynolds' RBI double --the first of two -- to left field. Reynolds' hit scored Wieters, who opened with a single, and put runners on second and third.

"It's good just to get any hits at the beginning of the season," said Reynolds, who combined with Wieters and Adam Jones to go 6-for-12 with four runs scored and three RBIs.

"It's always tough to get the first one but after that, you just kind of relax and play your game. I was fortunate to get a couple of good pitches to hit there late in the game and I was able to capitalize."

One out later, No. 9 batter J.J. Hardy drove in two more with a double down the left-field line, chasing Davis in favor of reliever Cesar Ramos. Hardy, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Minnesota, had two doubles and three runs scored in the series.

"I had a little conversation with [Hardy] toward the end of spring," Showalter said. " I said, 'How do you feel about where you hit in the order?' He said, 'With this lineup, I don't really care.' I said, 'I'm thinking about nine to start off,' and he said, 'Beautiful. Let's go.'"

It's that team-first attitude that has the O's flying high heading into Monday's home opener. Sunday's win was the O's first three-game sweep at Tropicana Field since 2005 and their seventh win over the Rays in their last eight matchups. Showalter, who took over in August, improved to 37-23 at the helm.

"It's a good start for us," Showalter said. "If the fans are feeling good about it, that's an emotion I hope they have." Comments