BALTIMORE -- For the Orioles, small ball paid big results.
On Tuesday, it spelled a 5-1 series-opening win over the Athletics, an outcome that never seemed to be in question once the Orioles took a two-run edge in the sixth.
In a season brimming with losses marked by missed opportunities and sloppy play, watching the O's draw walks, move runners and hit a pair of sacrifice flies wasn't simply satisfying, it was therapeutic.
"I told the team before the game that the first 45 games that we played, there's not a whole lot we can do about it except learn from it," manager Dave Trembley said. "And there's certainly an awful lot to learn. So, let's see about playing a little bit better fundamental baseball and see where that takes us."
"It was just a fundamentally good game by everybody, in every facet," reliever Mark Hendrickson said. "We scored when we had opportunities, we had solid defense, pitched well. If we can consistently focus on that, and do that, we are going to win games. And that's what we haven't been doing, the first seven or eight weeks."
With a crowd of 14,686 at Camden Yards looking on, the Orioles turned in one of their best-played games of the season, improving their record to 15-31 thanks to a solid start from Jeremy Guthrie, situational hitting and three innings of shutout baseball from the bullpen.
The O's manufactured a run in the bottom of the fourth, with Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada each working walks off A's starter Dallas Braden. Ty Wigginton's grounder back to Braden cut down leadoff-man Markakis, but Tejada managed to score on the ensuing play -- Adam Jones' infield grounder. On that play, the A's put the force on Wigginton at second but shortstop Cliff Pennington's throw sailed wide on the double-play, allowing Tejada to score and Jones to reach third.
"We have had to really battle to get our runs, at times it has been a scuffle," said Guthrie, who tossed his eighth quality start in 10 outings. "So, to get those two leadoff walks and take advantage of them with a couple of nice drives to right field, that's good baseball."
Guthrie backed the efforts with some good pitching. Although admittingly not at his best, the right-hander battled all night, pitching around a baserunner in each of his six innings and holding the A's to just one run.
"It's a confidence booster to know that you don't have to be at your best every single time to compete and keep your team in the game, and that's what it was [Tuesday night]," Guthrie said. "I just really scuffled. I just could not put away anybody."
Still, he won the majority of the battles with the A's notoriously pesky batters. Guthrie's lone blemish came in the second when Jack Cust drew a leadoff walk, advanced to third on Gabe Gross' double and scored on Mark Ellis' groundout.
"They made Guthrie work," Trembley said. "A lot of three-ball counts, but he made quality pitches. And he had to pitch every inning with men on base."
"I think that's where [Kevin] Millwood has been a real big influence on a lot of our guys because Millwood will tell you, 'When the game gets tough or especially late in the game, don't try to do it all yourself. Let the other guys try to help you.' And I think the message there is don't overthrow."
Guthrie has allowed just one earned run in each of his last three outings -- a stretch of 20 innings -- and has a 3.64 ERA. At this time last year, he had just four quality starts and a 4.90 ERA.
"You have to battle through and there were times last year that I battled very well also and there were times where I didn't," Guthrie said. "I wouldn't necessarily say this was something I wouldn't or couldn't have accomplished last year, but certainly it wasn't in the majority of my starts."
The Orioles' offense hasn't been in the majority of Guthrie's starts either, plating just nine runs while he was on the hill in his first six games. They've scored 19 runs in his last four, three of which came in Tuesday's win.
Baltimore worked another pair of walks off Oakland reliever Tyson Ross to start the sixth, with both Markakis and Tejada advancing on a wild pitch that skipped past catcher Kurt Suzuki. Wigginton and Jones both followed with shallow sacrifice flies to right field, to give the Orioles a two-run lead they would never relinquish. The O's added some insurance when Markakis clobbered a 1-1 pitch off reliever Michael Wuertz in the eighth and Wieters delivered a two-out RBI double to score pinch-runner Scott Moore.
"Everybody's been pressing early in the year," said Markakis, who hit his first homer since May 1 at Boston.
"Guys are starting to relax. I think guys are starting to realize we can play, we just need to have fun, relax and do the little things, and eventually things will come around."
The Orioles did all the little things right on Tuesday and got two solid innings of middle relief from big lefty Mark Hendrickson. In the wake of injuries to reliever Koji Uehara and closer Alfredo Simon, Trembley told Hendrickson -- typically the team's long man -- that he will be now be used in the later innings as well.
"I love the challenge," Hendrickson said. "The opportunity with the game on the line, just competing 'cause I've been around long enough to know how to compete."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.