PITTSBURGH (AP) — Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie’s back was OK.
His stuff? Not so much.
Four days after an MRI revealed a minor back strain, Guthrie gutted through 97 pitches in a 9-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, though manager Buck Showalter hardly placed the blame on his hard-luck pitcher.
Guthrie (2-9) settled down after a rocky first inning to give up six runs — five earned — while walking three and striking out two in 6 1/3 innings, staying in the game late to try and save a tired Baltimore bullpen.
Showalter praised Guthrie’s toughness and instead placed most of the blame on an offense that left 10 runners on base, including six in the first four innings after the Pirates jumped to a 5-0 lead.
“We had some opportunities,” Showalter said. “I’m proud of the way (Guthrie) gave us some innings. He hung in there.”
Yet Guthrie was hardly in the mood to celebrate a moral victory after dropping into a tie for the American League lead in losses.
“I didn’t make very good pitches, I didn’t have very good stuff,” he said. “My offspeed was not crisp, and the fastball, a lot of mistakes were made with it and they came out swinging.”
“You’ve got to tip your hat to (Pittsburgh’s) bullpen,” Baltimore third baseman Mark Reynolds said. “They came in and did a great job. We weren’t able to put anything together off them.”
Chris Resop (3-2) picked up the victory in relief after starter James McDonald couldn’t get through the requisite five innings even though he was staked to an early five-run lead.
“(Resop) has done the job a number of times this season with runners on base, has come in right on right and get people,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Resop keyed another sparkling performance by Pittsburgh’s bullpen. A night after relievers logged seven effective innings in an 8-3 loss Resop, Tony Watson, Jose Veras and Tim Wood held Baltimore scoreless after the Orioles cut it to 5-3 in the fifth and allowed the Pirates to break it open late.
“All these guys have pitched a lot of innings in the last week and pitched extremely well and it (was) time on offense that we gave them a little breathing room,” Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh’s offense finally broke out after slumping during a four-game slide. Hurdle thinks his team may have been inspired by the throwback uniforms the Pirates wore to honor the 40th anniversary of the club’s 1971 World Series title.
“We average nine runs a game in these unis,” he joked.
Neil Walker had two hits and drove in three runs while Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones and Xavier Paul all knocked in two runs apiece for Pittsburgh, which has won three interleague games this year, one more than it managed last season.
The retro look was part of a festive night in which the Pirates feted the championship team that beat the Orioles in seven games four decades ago. A pregame ceremony honored a team that included Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski.
Those heady days are a lifetime ago for both franchises. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have combined for 31 consecutive losing seasons, though both clubs have shown signs of progress this spring, particularly the Pirates.
Pittsburgh improved to 36-37 heading into Wednesday’s series finale by breaking out of a mini-slump. The Pirates’ nine runs were two more than they scored during their four-game slide.
They busted out by doing the little things. Jones hit a two-run double in the bottom of the first then Andrew McCutchen — batting cleanup for just the second time this year — dropped a bunt to move Jones over. Jones later scored on a sacrifice fly by Walker.
“We’re not a team that is going to hit three-run homers all the time,” McCutchen said. “We’ve got to play small ball. Regardless of where we are in the lineup, where I am in the lineup, I’m going to continue to play the game the right way.”
McDonald tried to hang long enough to pick up his sixth win of the season but never looked completely comfortable on a muggy night.
Home runs by J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones pulled Baltimore within 5-3 in the fifth. A single and a walk put the tying run on first base with two outs when Hurdle came to the mound to pull McDonald after 104 pitches and one out short of qualifying for the win. He gave up three runs, walked four and struck out three in 4 2-3 innings.
“His stuff was up, his command was pretty much gone and we needed to win the ballgame,” Hurdle said.
The 26-year-old bent his head while handing the ball to Hurdle and tugged at his cap before slowly jogging off the field.
“Five innings, I don’t think, is good enough, I think I need to go deeper in games,” McDonald said. “I think a lot of times I get myself in trouble.”
Resop escaped the jam by striking out Robert Andino.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)