With the Orioles limping toward the finish line of another lost season, the small victories that can be had in late August revolve more around the future than anything involving 2011.
Case in point: left-hander Zach Britton, the rookie who took the American League by storm in April only to make dubious baseball history in July.
On Monday, in a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Twins that broke the Orioles' five-game losing streak, Britton was back pitching in the majors after a stint on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder.
And he was back looking a little more like the guy who began his career 5-1 than the one who became the first in baseball history to allow six or more earned runs in consecutive outings while pitching one inning or fewer.
"I think it was bigger for the team more so than me," Britton said. "Obviously, it is good to get a win, but we needed it after the way we played in Anaheim. Being able to come out here and get the first win, the first day here, I think it sets the tone for the next three games."
Britton (7-9) lasted just five innings and allowed 10 base runners, including four on walks. But he continually pitched out of jams, including a mess of his own doing in the third when he issued consecutive two-out walks to load the bases, then got likely Hall of Famer Jim Thome to fly out to end the threat.
"It was one of those days I'm just so excited to be back and I'm overthrowing everything. I didn't really have great command," said Britton, who allowed one run on a groundout by Joe Mauer. "My mindset was, 'Here it is.' I am going to make them beat me with my stuff. I am going to throw it over the plate. I know I can't hit corners right now. I think I got lucky with some pitches, got out of some jams."
Britton struck out four and routinely hit 94 mph with his fastball but was forced to throw 98 pitches -- an inefficiency that has hampered the Orioles' young starters.
"It's something we've got to improve on, efficiency of pitches," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's something [Britton] will get better at, and he has done it this year, too. He is capable of it. But sometimes guys get a little not quite as aggressive in the strike zone when they've kind of got their hand burned a little. So when Zach feels better about all his pitches, he's going to get better at that."
The Orioles (48-77) didn't capitalize often against a hittable Carl Pavano (6-10), who allowed nine hits and two walks in seven innings. But they scored a lone run four times -- good enough to hand Britton his first victory since June 8, breaking a streak of seven winless starts.
It was the Orioles' second win in seven games on this road trip and just their sixth victory in 20 August tries.
"Every win for us is important," said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who gave the club a lead with a solo homer in the fifth. "We haven't been winning a whole lot here, and when we do, it is good. It's what we try to do every day, and it hasn't happened a whole lot this year."
The Orioles scored the night's first run in the third on a RBI single by second baseman Ryan Adams in his first big league at-bat since June.
They could have had more, but after Hardy moved Adams and Nolan Reimold to second and third, respectively, on a sacrifice bunt, they were stranded as Nick Markakis hit a comebacker to Pavano and Adam Jones flied out to center.
In his first trip back to Minnesota since the Twins traded him in December, Hardy hit a 376-foot blast to left that was his 24th homer of the season, tying former Oriole Miguel Tejada for most by an AL East shortstop since 2006.
The homer was set up by one of the 38,986 fans at a sold-out Target Field. A man in a Mauer jersey in the front row of the first base side attempted to catch a foul ball by Hardy and interfered with the actual Mauer, who would have made the play easily. After Hardy homered, many of those at Target Field booed the clumsy fan.
"Was it a Mauer fan?" Hardy joked. "Somebody was saying he was wearing a Hardy jersey."
Matt Wieters added his 13th homer of the season in the sixth -- it was the seventh homer of the road trip by the Orioles; all have been solo shots.
The Orioles added one more run against Pavano on a double by Markakis in the seventh. The inning ended when Twins rookie center fielder Ben Revere made an outstanding catch at the wall to rob Vladimir Guerrero of extra bases.
Revere caught the ball while jumping at the wall with his back to the plate. Showalter briefly argued that the ball hit the wall first.
It wasn't the most animated argument of the night. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected for the 60th time in his career and sixth time this season when he screamed repeatedly at plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt in the eighth.
Wendelstedt tossed Danny Valencia for arguing a third-strike pitch by Orioles lefty Michael Gonzalez, and Gardenhire went out to object to Valencia's ejection. As Gardenhire left the field, he tossed his own hat behind his head in protest.
Gonzalez continued his excellent run by striking out all four batters he faced, including Jason Kubel with runners on second and third in the seventh. Gonzalez has not allowed a run in 15 of his past 16 games.
"Gonzo has been pitching well for a while now," Showalter said. "He is attacking the zone, he is pitching with a purpose and he has a good look in his eye, and hopefully we will benefit from it the next five weeks."
Closer Kevin Gregg, who didn't retire a batter in two of his past four outings, pitched a perfect ninth for his 18th save.
"You don't do the things he has done over a long period and not have some mental toughness," Showalter said. "The mental toughness part of it is never a question with him."
Britton also showed mental toughness in bouncing back from three rough starts to pick up the win -- something his teammates were encouraged to see.
"Anytime Britton is throwing the ball with conviction, he is great," Hardy said. "I think he went out there with a different attitude today, and it was good."
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