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BOS@BAL: Jones notches his second sac fly of the game

BALTIMORE -- Last Thursday was a date imprinted on Zach Britton's brain the moment late in Spring Training that the 23-year-old was informed he wouldn't be making the Orioles' Opening Day roster. The anticipated date -- which invoked the minimum 20-day period that would delay Britton's free agency clock -- he matched against hypothetical Minor League starts, securing plans to stay at a teammate's house for a month-long lease at Triple-A Norfolk.

But as is often the case in baseball, the plan didn't materialize. And while the Orioles' good-fortune in recalling Britton on April 3 was rooted in hard luck -- sending promising young starter Brian Matusz to the disabled list -- what has transpired in his first month has been nothing short of extraordinary.

To that end, Tuesday night was a fitting encore, as Britton stifled the Red Sox over six innings, allowing just one run while headlining a critical 4-1 victory that stopped the Orioles' three-game slide. The young lefty closed the month of April at 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA and became just the fourth American League rookie since 1980 to end April with four wins.

"The one thing I learned about him is he doesn't care who it is [he's facing]," first baseman Derrek Lee said of Britton, who also has wins against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and the Rays, who won the AL East last season.

"His sinker, you don't see a ball with that much movement from a lefty very often. He's going to be tough all year. He just has a great arm."

Britton has gone at least six innings in each of his first five Major League games, four of which he posted quality starts, and his only blemish Tuesday was a fifth-inning run scored by Dustin Pedroia. After a leadoff single, Pedroia advanced to second on Adrian Gonzalez's comebacker to the mound -- which Britton fumbled and had to throw to first -- and proceeded to steal third, enabling him to score on Kevin Youkilis' lineout to center.

"I just think I've got to do better job [holding runners]," Britton said. "He caught me off guard stealing third. I wasn't expecting that."

The Red Sox were equally surprised with Britton. Using his trademark sinkerball, Britton got 11 of 18 outs on the ground and kept Boston's batters continually baffled as they retreated back to the dugout.

"Put it this way, I can see why they like him," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Britton. "He's got velocity, he's got really good sink. It looks like he's got some poise. Yeah, he was impressive."

Britton wriggled free of his only jam of the night, stranding the bases loaded in the fifth. In that inning, No. 9 batter Jason Varitek delivered a two-out single and Jacoby Ellsbury doubled to right field to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. Britton then walked Pedroia on four pitches, loading the bases and bringing pitching coach Mark Connor out to the mound for a brief chat.

With Gonzalez at the plate, Britton worked a quick 1-2 count and retired the formidable first baseman on a bouncing grounder to second base, keeping Boston off the board and sending the crowd into emphatic applause as he walked off the hill.

"Every time he walks on that mound, he goes out there and gives it his all," said center fielder Adam Jones. "That's really all you can ask."

Britton worked around another pair of singles in the sixth, and he scattered five hits and two walks total, picking up two strikeouts as well. Asked if he was satisfied with his first month in the big leagues, Britton said he was, although for different reasons than simply his stat sheet.

"I think I have gone out there and given this team an opportunity to win every time out, and that's my goal," he said. "It is not about setting a record for wins in a month for a rookie or anything like that. It's not about having a sub-3.00 ERA, it's about keeping our team in the game every time out, and that's what I am hoping to continue to do."

It was more than enough on Tuesday, as the Orioles' offense -- led by a pair of sacrifice flies from Jones and the continued perfection of Matt Wieters with runners in scoring position -- posted their first series-opening victory since April 9 vs. the Rangers.

"I thought it was a big win," said Lee, who went 2-for-5 with two runs scored. "We need to start winning more series, so to get the first one of the series is big."

The Orioles' offense, which entered Tuesday second-lowest in the American League in runs scored, showed signs of resuscitation off Boston's Clay Buchholz by tagging him with a career-high 12 hits. But Baltimore was never able to deliver the big blow early despite several chances, adding all four runs in separate innings.

"He's pretty good," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "We caught him with probably a little less command than he normally has. Let's face it, we didn't exactly open him up. He bent but he didn't break. He kept his team in the game. I think it was more our pitching did a really good job tonight."

Luke Scott singled to open the second, and after Mark Reynolds' double put runners on the corners, Wieters' infield single off the first-base bag scored Scott to give Baltimore a 1-0 edge. It was also the first run Boston had allowed in 20 innings and improved Wieters to 7-for-7 with 11 RBIs with runners in scoring position. But Buchholz got a pair of strikeouts to stop the Orioles at one run, wriggling free in the first of many big spots.

Jones scored Lee with both of his sacrifice flies, and Reynolds plated the Orioles' fourth run in the seventh after Buchholz intentionally walked Jones to load the bases.

"I think everybody was just going up there and trying to get something early, because when he gets two strikes, he can put some guys away," Wieters said of Buchholz. "We were able to get some balls up in the zone early, and that's the big thing. Just trying to turn it over to the next guy, and when you get 12 hits, that's what you are doing."

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