ARLINGTON -- The contending Orioles did what teams have to do as the games get more important late in the season. Their pitchers collectively made big pitches when the moment called for it.
Reliever Pedro Strop, following the lead of starter Chris Tillman, made the biggest pitch of the night in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 5-3 victory over the Rangers.
Strop got Rangers MVP candidate Josh Hamilton to swing at a slider in the dirt for a strikeout with the tying runs on base. It came the pitch after Strop hung a slider that Hamilton got out in front of and pulled foul, missing a game-turning three-run home run by 15 or 20 feet.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had the confidence in Strop to call the slider again, and the reliever -- a former teammate of Hamilton's -- was intent on burying the pitch in the dirt and making the Rangers' slugger chase.
"I didn't want to throw it for a strike," Strop said. "When I heard the sound off the bat, I thought he got me. Then I saw that it was going foul."
The Orioles shut the door on the Rangers from there, keeping their lead for the second American League Wild Card spot for another day. Strop worked around a one-out walk in the eighth inning, and Jim Johnson notched his 38th save with a perfect ninth. Johnson moved into a tie with Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney for the AL lead in saves.
Johnson also moved into sole possession of second place on the Orioles' all-time saves list, seven behind Randy Myers' 45 saves in 1997. Johnson was asked after the game if it meant anything to him to move up the O's single-season save list.
"No, not yet," Johnson said. "We'll see where we are at the end of the year."
That's the attitude all of the Orioles have taken on under manager Buck Showalter, who has turned Baltimore into a playoff contender. Showalter has maneuvered his bullpen like a magician -- it showed again Tuesday -- and he has stayed positive with his young team.
That showed up with Tillman, who again pitched well against the Rangers in their own ballpark.
Tillman held one of baseball's best-hitting teams in check for the third time in his career, allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings. Tillman, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Arlington in 2010, allowed four hits through six innings before Geovany Soto hit a two-run home in the bottom of the seventh to cut Baltimore's lead to 5-3.
Tillman allowed six hits and walked only one. He struck out seven. He did give up two home runs, the other a solo shot by Ian Kinsler in the third inning.
"He's got a good four-seam fastball," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. "It's a little sneaky out of his hand. It's tough to tell exactly where it's going to end up vertically. That's why a lot of guys were swinging at that high fastball."
Tillman was able to throw his curveball for strikes, and he forced Texas hitters to chase his fastball up in the strike zone, a heater that sometimes reached 94-95 mph. Tillman downplayed it after the game.
"When you're ahead in the count, you can go up in the zone like that. I wasn't trying to throw them that hard. Like I've said, I don't worry about the velocity. I just worry about the command."
The Orioles erupted for four runs in the top of the fifth to take a 5-1 lead. Manny Machado had a one-out triple to score Omar Quintanilla to snap a 1-1 tie. The Orioles then produced three runs with two outs.
J.J. Hardy had a double to right field to make it 3-1. Nate McLouth followed with his first home run of the season, belting a 2-0 pitch from Scott Feldman into the right-field stands for a 5-1 lead.
"Nate has some pop," Showalter said. "He's well on his way back.
"And that was a big hit by J.J.," Showalter said. "After not scoring the runner at third with one out, those are big hits."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.