DETROIT -- If the Orioles are going to make their first postseason appearance in 15 years, one thing is certain: their starting rotation has to stabilize.
And while it's far too early to make any bold declarations, starter Zach Britton -- who was recalled from Triple-A prior to the game -- took a big step forward Saturday night in what has been a season of struggles. The 24-year-old silenced a lethal Tigers team, tossing seven scoreless innings in his best start of the season to highlight the Orioles' 3-2 series-evening win in front of a sellout crowd of 42,132 at Comerica Park.
"There wasn't any panic in his eyes," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton, who entered the game with an 8.10 ERA in five starts this season. "He had a presence. And his presentation to the Tigers was one of aggression and confidence."
The Orioles took Britton's bravado and ran with it, picking up their 10th win in 14 games and moving to six games behind the American League East-leading Yankees as they maintained a spot in the AL Wild Card race. Baltimore also improved to an astonishing 50-0 when leading after seven innings, with closer Jim Johnson recording his 36th save after setup man Pedro Strop was charged with a pair of runs -- his first allowed since July 3 -- in the eighth.
"Things kind of started out well, and we are trying to keep the momentum so we can get where we want to get at the end of the year," said Johnson, who moved into a four-way tie for third in the Orioles' single-season saves list. "It felt like a game we needed to win."
Coming off an emotionally draining loss Friday night, in which both first baseman Mark Reynolds and Showalter were ejected, the O's made good on their promise to move on immediately. And Britton, who worked his way out of several tough spots, made that possible, as the young lefty showed some much-needed signs of getting back on track.
Asked if this year, which started with injury followed by underperformance, has made him feel like a different pitcher, Britton said: "Little bloodied? I think that's a Buck quote, right? I'm a little bloodied. Yeah, definitely [I've learned from my struggles]. I think you have more of an appreciation for going out there and worrying about each start and going about your business the right way.
Today [my] command was better. It's a little bit of command's not good, results not good. Better command is better results."
With late life on his fastball, Britton lived off his sinkerball and got three key double plays to help the Tigers go 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position over his seven innings. One of Britton's biggest jams came in the first inning, as Detroit loaded the bases on one-out singles from Omar Infante and Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder's walk. But Britton got Jhonny Peralta to hit into a double play.
The left-hander recorded a pair of called strikeouts in the third to pitch around a leadoff double to Austin Jackson and an intentional walk to Cabrera, and got Delmon Young to hit into an inning-ending double play to strand a leadoff single and a walk in the sixth.
"We know what kind of stuff he has," Davis said of Britton, who went 5-2 with a 2.35 in his first 10 Major League starts as a rookie last year. "We know what he's capable of. It's just a matter of doing up here. He's battled all year. He's been up, he's been down. He's had some rough stretches up here, but tonight you saw the Zach Britton that we see day in, day out, and hopefully that's the guy you see for the rest of the year."
Davis gave Britton all the offense necessary off Tigers starter Rick Porcello, sending his 1-1 offering over the left-field wall for a three-run homer in the seventh inning.
"It looked like it was right on the black of the plate and down, away from him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of the pitch Davis muscled out of the park. "He stayed on it, hit it out. He's a real strong kid. You've got to give him credit. That's a real good piece of hitting."
The blast marked Davis' first home run since July 31 in New York, and scored Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, who opened the frame with a pair of hits. Porcello exited after Reynolds followed Davis' homer with a single, and he picked up his third loss in five career starts against the Orioles.
"It's a pitch I want to throw," Porcello said of the sinker down and away to Davis. "I really didn't have any other pitch in my mind. And I got beat on it. There's nothing really else to say. He was better than me on that particular pitch. That's pretty much the bottom line."
The bottom line for the Orioles keeps getting better. Saturday's win improved the O's to 23-6 in one-run games this season, including 12 consecutive wins, which ties a franchise record. Baltimore has 65 wins, a mark that the club didn't reach until Sept. 21 last season.
"This is a tough series," Britton said of a Tigers club just one game in back of the O's in the Wild Card race. "I knew that we needed a good game. And, obviously, I've had my struggles, so it's nice to put one up there for the team."
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.