Guthrie pitches gem as Orioles down Rays in opener

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At long last, the 2011 Orioles debuted their beefed-up lineup against one of baseball's best. But David Price wasn't the best pitcher as the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays opened their 2011 seasons at Tropicana Field, nor was the Orioles' offense the biggest story.

Jeremy Guthrie was both by a wide margin as he took command of Game 1 and relinquished it only after his team had a reasonably comfortable lead. Guthrie, who graduated from Ashland High School in 1997, threw eight scoreless innings, and Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts each drove in two runs as the Orioles exacted revenge for last year's brutal season-opening loss here to beat the Rays, 4-1, before an announced sellout crowd of 34,078.

The Orioles broke a three-game road losing streak on Opening Days and improved to 36-22 all time in season openers.

They beat Price to do it, scoring a run on him in the third inning on Markakis' two-out RBI single and three more in the fifth on Roberts' two-run triple and Markakis' sacrifice fly. Price had allowed just one run in 15 innings against the Orioles last year and seven earned runs in 32 1/3 innings versus them over his career.

The four runs were more than enough for Guthrie, who authored one of the finest performances of his career.

"He was awesome," Roberts said. "He was able to throw off-speed pitches early in the count and get ahead. He threw them when he was behind in the count, and his fastball, he located really well to the lefties. He threw his fastball to the outside part of the plate really well. We can't expect that every day, but I think we believe that Guthrie can beat anybody. That's why he's starting today. He pitched great last year, and I don't expect him to do anything different this year."

Guthrie became the first Orioles starter to go eight or more scoreless innings on Opening Day since Rick Sutcliffe pitched a shutout in 1992.

The veteran right-hander allowed just three hits and walked one, retiring 12 straight in between Dan Johnson's one-out double in the second and Ben Zobrist's two-out single in the sixth. He had six strikeouts, including the 500th of his career against Manny Ramirez to end the fourth inning.

"Both the curveball and changeup are pitches if I don't work on, they are not there for me," Guthrie said. "It was nice today to have a feel for them, and I'll just continue to do the things that I've done in bullpens and side sessions to hopefully improve them."

Guthrie, who had a 6.43 ERA in the spring, threw 67 of his 94 pitches for strikes. Orioles manager Buck Showalter went to Jim Johnson in the ninth inning, and he allowed a solo homer to Ben Zobrist on his first pitch, conjuring up memories of Michael Gonzalez's blown save in last year's opener. However, Johnson struck out Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria and retired Ramirez on a groundout to end it.

"This early in the year, that was a pretty special performance that he had tonight," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said of Guthrie. "We've seen Guthrie with that kind of stuff, but to be able to do that on Opening Day against a good lineup, that's pretty special right there."

The afternoon started with discouraging news as the team's No. 2 starter, Brian Matusz, who was expected to toe the rubber Saturday, dressed in street clothes and headed out of the stadium about 2 1/2; hours before the first pitch to get an MRI on the intercostal region of his back.

His loss for any extended period would be a huge blow to the Orioles, who have one starter (Justin Duchscherer) on the disabled list and are extremely thin in terms of starting pitching depth. For now, Chris Tillman will move up to make Saturday night's start and top prospect Zach Britton will start Sunday's series finale.

Orioles fans were well-represented during pre-game festivities with manager Buck Showalter, who guided the club to a 34-23 finish to end an otherwise brutal 2010 season, and new slugger Vladimir Guerrero getting the warmest ovations from the road faithful.

But, of course, the loudest cheers came when the Rays' 2010 American League East championship banner was raised to the left-field rafters at Tropicana Field.

When the pomp and circumstance was over, Price threw the first pitch of the Orioles' 2011 season at 7:13 p.m, a fastball that Brian Roberts took for a ball. Price got Roberts to foul out, part of an easy first inning in which he disposed of three Orioles in seven total pitches. Guthrie matched Price's routine first with a six-pitch inning of his own, throwing all strikes.

It was Guthrie's third Opening Day start for the Orioles, tying Rodrigo Lopez and Steve Barber for the fourth most in modern franchise history. He was 1-1 with a 6.35 ERA in his previous two Opening Day assignments, beating the New York Yankees and losing to the Rays in 2008.

Guthrie allowed his first hit with one out in the second as Dan Johnson ripped an outside fastball over the glove of a leaping Markakis and off the top of the right-field wall. Johnson stopped at second and never moved as Guthrie struck out B.J. Upton looking and retired Matt Joyce on a groundout.

In the top of the third, J.J. Hardy doubled in his first at-bat as an Oriole, the ball, much like Johnson's in the previous inning, bouncing high off the wall in right-center. Price tried to pick off Hardy at second base, but his throw wound up in center field, giving the Orioles a man on third.

Price struck out Roberts on a 3-2 offspeed pitch before Markakis lined a two-out single into center to put the Orioles up 1-0.

The score stayed that way until the top of the fifth inning, which Wieters started with a one-out single that handcuffed Rays shortstop Reid Brignac. Hardy worked a walk, and Roberts lined a Price pitch into the gap to easily score both runs.

Roberts appeared to be ready to pull up at second, but he kept running when new Rays left fielder Johnny Damon bobbled the ball and fell down, allowing the leadoff man to get a triple.

That loomed large because Markakis drove Price's next pitch into center field for a sacrifice fly that gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead.

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