BOSTON -- The fact that Felix Doubront was even out there this deep into the season, passing his 150th inning at the Major League level, was an encouraging sign for the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon.
But the way he took control of the game en route to a 2-1 win, slicing and dicing Orioles hitters with knee-bending curves while painting corners with his 94-mph fastball, was almost too good to be true.
When it's late September and a 24-year-old who hadn't tossed 130 innings at any level throughout his injury-riddled career is setting a career high with 11 strikeouts against a team that is fighting for the American League East title, there's at least something to be hopeful about.
"Nobody really thought or anticipated him coming in and doing this," said outfielder Cody Ross. "Everyone knew he had incredible stuff and was a competitor. But you see young guys fade out during the end of the season because they get tired.
"He wants to be out there pitching. That's what he's done his whole life. He's done an amazing job, and he's only going to get better."
Doubront, making his 28th start of the season, was electric from the start. His fastball was sharp, with his changeup and curve complementing it well, as he kept the Orioles off balance and out of the hit column until the fifth. And they may have never scored a run if not for Pedro Ciriaco losing a popup in the sun.
After Lew Ford singled and Chris Davis doubled, leaving two runners in scoring position, Manny Machado smacked a blooper into shallow right field that Ciriaco just missed. The ball fell to the ground, and Ford scored.
But Doubront kept sailing, throwing his 112th pitch to close out the seventh, his 154th inning of the season after throwing just 87 2/3 in 2011.
"He wanted to prove that these innings aren't something for us to be concerned with and that he's a good pitcher," manager Bobby Valentine said. "He had some hurdles to get over, and when he's not pitching, you can't get through those hurdles. And I've seen him get through them and continue to get better."
Doubront's strikeout rate, which jumped to more than a batter per inning on the season, is the highest it's been since he was toying with Class A hitters back in 2008.
"I'm learning a lot," Doubront said. "This is the year that I'm looking at a lot of challenges and learning from them. Next year, when I get those challenges, it's going to be easy for me."
Valentine believes that as Doubront gains a better understanding of each hitter in the league, it'll be easier for him to keep the strikeouts coming without the downside of a high walk-rate (4.1 per nine innings in 2012).
And after he started to fade in August, allowing at least four earned runs in five straight starts, Doubront appears rejuvenated.
"That's the Felix I know," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Felix was just filthy. Every pitch he had -- fastball, curveball and changeup -- when you have that many pitches and you're able to command them, it's tough to sit on anything."
With Doubront out of the game after seven strong innings, allowing just one run on four hits and two walks, Junichi Tazawa, who lowered his ERA to 1.02, pitched a clean eighth and set the stage for Dustin Pedroia and Ross in the bottom half of the inning.
Pedroia started the inning with a double down the right-field line. Ross then attempted to lay down a bunt, thinking it would be a good idea to give the hitters behind him an easier RBI opportunity with the midafternoon shadows making things difficult at the plate. Ross missed on the bunt, then followed with a hard double into left field that scored what would be the game-winning run.
Andrew Bailey, just three days removed from his five-run blowup in a loss to the Rays, escaped a testy ninth inning, loading the bases before collecting his sixth save of the season.
"I got in a little bit of a jam and fell behind hitters again," said Bailey, who has a 5.79 ERA over 14 innings. "But this time I made pitches when I needed to.
"For me, it's nice to get back in those situations. As much as you don't want to put guys on base, when the time is right next year, when we're in the playoff hunt, these couple of save opportunities, high-stress outings, might play a part down the road."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that it was difficult for the hitters considering the way the sun hits the field as the schedule gets deeper into September.
"But you can't take anything away from Doubront," Showalter said. "He threw great. Kept us off balance. Threw a lot of strikes. He pitched a good game."
Jason Mastrodonato is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.