That it came in one-run fashion for the Orioles, who were previously 0-3 in one-run games after setting a Major League record with a 29-9 mark last year, was fitting. But the real source of solace as the Orioles got ready to board a plane to New York was the club's improved play, with some timely hitting and lockdown relief pitching leading the way in Thursday's 3-2 win against the Red Sox.
"They're a good team and they're totally different than what they were last year," said closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his fourth save as part of 3 2/3 innings of stellar relief action to hand an improved Red Sox club its first series loss. "It's going to be a dogfight all the way through. And we know that, and they know that. Anytime you can win a series and move on to the next city, you're happy."
The victory improved the Orioles to 5-4 and was their 11th out of their last 15 games against Boston, their 21st in the two clubs' last 30 meetings, and gave them five consecutive series wins at Fenway Park. And it centered on the middle-of-the-order bats of Adam Jones and Chris Davis, who continue to drive the lineup and prove that perhaps the Orioles didn't need to sign an external bat this winter after all.
"I'm glad what [Dan] Duquette and [Buck] Showalter did," said Jones, who had a pair of key two-out RBIs, including the game winner. "They put it upon the in-house [guys]. They kept everything in-house. It's made us get better. It's made CD better, myself and [Matt] Wieters better. We don't necessarily need the outside help. We've got the guys here."
Davis continued a torrid streak to start the season, letting loose on Red Sox starter Alfredo Aceves' 3-0 pitch in the second inning for his sixth homer of the year. The blast marked Davis' 13th homer in his past 16 games, dating back to Sept. 26. In that stretch, Davis has homered in consecutive games, four in a row and six in a row, all different streaks. Meanwhile, Jones has hit safely in all nine games with six multi-hit contests. Combined, Davis and Jones have hit .441 with eight doubles, seven homers, 18 runs scored and 29 RBIs through the team's first nine games.
"I don't think our guys feel like one guy's got to do it, and that's a good mentality to have," Showalter said. "Someone else is going to pick them up. I don't think anyone feels like they're carrying the load."
The same can be said for the bullpen, a group that picked up the final 11 outs of the game after starter Chris Tillman's exit and pieced together a stretch -- dating back to Jarrod Saltalamacchia's sixth-inning homer on Wednesday -- in which they retired 14 straight Boston batters, ending with Shane Victorino's seventh-inning single.
But all of the drama came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when lefty reliever Brian Matusz picked up the biggest two outs of the night.
"I think it set the tone for the rest of the inning," Jones said, "the rest of the game."
Tillman started the inning and allowed a leadoff single to Mike Napoli, and Daniel Nava's hit one out later prompted Showalter to bring on Matusz. After falling behind, 3-0, on Saltalamacchia, Matusz bounced back, getting him to chase on a full-count slider. He followed that up by fanning Stephen Drew to strand the pair of runners.
"They had us in a good spot there if he doesn't get Drew," Showalter said. "We weren't going to make multiple moves there in the sixth inning and [Jonny] Gomes was a good matchup for them. I turned to John [Russell] in the dugout and said, 'If Brian gets this guy out, I think we've got a chance to win this game,' because it really set up for us well the rest of the way."
Matusz, a rotation candidate who made the Opening Day roster in the bullpen following phenomenal success there last year, has stranded all three inherited runners this season. And that's following a season in which he recorded a 1.35 ERA in 18 relief outings, stranding all 14 inherited runners.
"It was huge," Matusz said of escaping Tillman's trouble. "It was a crucial situation in the game right there. They had a little momentum going their way and to be able to stop it right there -- and obviously our offense came back and scored a run for us -- it was a crucial part and it was a nice way to end it."
The Orioles' offense responded in the next inning, with Jones -- after evening the score at 2 with a two-out hit in the third -- coming through again.
Manny Machado, who went 3-for-4, started it off with a single to end Clay Mortenson's day and bring on Andrew Miller, who walked Nick Markakis. Former Oriole Koji Uehara entered to face Jones, who sent the first pitch into left field to double in the decisive run.
"He's a good player," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Jones, who is batting .462. "Obviously, the RBI single up the middle to tie the game and then the double to put them ahead, that's why he's sitting in that three-hole for them."
"I'm not trying to really turn and burn it, I'm trying to make solid contact and keep that in my concept," Jones said. "Hit the ball and not necessarily try and hit the ball out of the park, just hit the ball hard and wherever it goes, live with the results."
Tillman, who allowed a pair of runs in the third and took a no-decision in a 5 1/3-innings outing, wasn't thrilled with his individual results.
"It was OK," he said after allowing six hits and two walks along with five strikeouts. "Not where I need to be yet, but I was able to make some adjustments in-game and I was happy with that. But I'd like to get my work in in between starts and be able to start the game better."
"He gave us a chance to win the game," Showalter said. "Tilly had a couple deep counts where you'd like to see him kind of shorten up some, which would allow him to go a little deeper in the game, but he had the type of stuff that could have carried him a little deeper tonight. But it's early. He's strong and he carried a good fastball in both outings from the get-go. That's good to see."