DETROIT — Zach Britton's season has been a fight: A fight to stay healthy, a fight with his control and a fight to prove he belongs in the major leagues.
With his team needing a win Saturday night to stay perched among the two American League wild-card spots, the 24-year-old Britton gave the Orioles his best, throwing seven shutout innings against a dangerous lineup and leading the Orioles to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers in front of a loud sellout crowd of 42,132 at Comerica Park.
The win was the Orioles' 10th in their last 14 games and their 12th straight victory in one-run games, tying a franchise record achieved three other times (most recently June 2-July 8, 1979). It also improved the Orioles' record in one-run games to 23-6.
The Orioles (65-55) — who entered the day tied with the Tigers for the second wild-card position — also gained a game on the New York Yankees, cutting their AL East lead to six games. Last year, the O's didn't win their 65th game until Sept. 21, their 155th game of the season.
That shows how much the Orioles' fortunes have changed this year. It's mid-August and they're entrenched in a playoff race.
“These are the kind of games you want at the end of the season,” said designated hitter Chris Davis, who hit an opposite-field, three-run homer in the seventh inning off Tigers starter Rick Porcello (9-8) to break a scoreless tie. “They have a playoff atmosphere. They're close games, and they really test the charcter of the team.”
Davis' homer was his first in 65 at-bats, dating back to a grand slam against the Yankees in the Bronx on July 31.
Porcello had retired 11 straight before Adam Jones led off the inning with a broken-bat single. Matt Wieters then beat out an infield hit to second base, putting two on for Davis, who hit a 1-1 fastball into the Tigers' bullpen in left field.
Davis' 19th homer of the season came on a ball that he seemingly barely got a hold off. He hit Porcello's delivery off the end of his bat and got very little of his body behind his swing.
“I didn't think it was gone, to be honest with you,” Davis said. “I was just trying to stay the other way, if nothing else, to give me a chance to move the runners over. ... This is a huge park. With the way Prince [Fielder] and [Miguel] Cabrera are swinging it, you wouldn't think so, but I was just glad to get the job done.”
And it was enough for Britton (2-1), who gave the Orioles his best start of the season, allowing just six hits over seven innings. It was the first time Britton has thrown seven or more shutout innings in 12 major league starts going back nearly a year, when he tossed seven shutout innings against the Yankees on August 28, 2011. Britton became just the third Orioles starter to register a scoreless start at Comerica Park since the stadium opened in 2000, and it was the longest such start since Jeremy Guthrie tossed seven scoreless frames in 2010.
“I thought he had a real good presence about him tonight,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton. “There wasn't any panic in his eyes. He just said here it is. I told him before the game, ‘Throw it in there and let them hunt.'
“You know, it's a great opportunity to be pitching in the big leagues in front of a big crowd. It's a good crowd. Let it rip. And he just kept pounding the zone.”
Britton was awarded Saturday's spot start despite being sent to Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 8 after pitching to an 8.10 ERA through five big league starts. His one start with the Tides after the demotion didn't provide much better results — as he battled with his control — but the quality of his stuff gave him optimism he was starting to come around.
“Today [my] command was better,” Britton said. It's a little bit of command's not good, results [aren't] good. Better command [means] better results.
“This is a tough series,” he added. “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.”
Britton used his sinker effectively, inducing three critical double-play balls. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning with a 6-4-3 double play. He also put runners at first and second with one out in the sixth before Delmon Young bounced into a 6-4-3 double play.
"He located his stuff,” Tigers right fielder Jeff Baker said. “He pitched backwards when he needed to. He got his sinker down in the zone and didn't leave anything up when men got on base. He made some pitches."
The Tigers (64-56) scored two runs off Orioles set-up man Pedro Strop — snapping Strop's streak of 17 straight scoreless outings — on Jhonny Peralta's two-out, two-run single in the eighth. But Peralta was caught in a rundown between first and second to end the inning.
Closer Jim Johnson locked down his 36th save — tying the club mark for third-most in a season, last accomplished by B.J. Ryan in 2005 — with a perfect ninth. The win also improved the Orioles' record to 50-0 when leading after seven innings.