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BAL@BOS: Orioles' bullpen hurls eight shutout frames

BOSTON -- Orioles reliever Luis Ayala walked through the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park in the wee hours of Saturday morning with a large multicolored piñata under his arm.

"It's for tomorrow," Ayala said with a grin, referring to a Cinco de Mayo holiday that technically had already started.

But that celebration could wait. Baltimore -- winners of nine of its last 11 -- had plenty of other reasons to smile, with Friday's 6-4, 13-inning win over the Boston Red Sox giving long-suffering Orioles fans, who have watched 14 consecutive losing seasons, still more to cheer for.

Friday's series-opening victory, in front of a sellout crowd of 37,223 at Fenway Park, was the Orioles' fourth win in their last five games in Boston -- after dropping the previous six -- and their sixth in the two teams' last eight contests overall. The Orioles plated two runs off reliever Franklin Morales, courtesy of Chris Davis' one-out single and Mark Reynolds' sacrifice fly, to improve to 17-9 and stay in second place in the American League East.

"It's been a whole lot of fun," said Orioles lefty Troy Patton, who picked up his first win of the season with two scoreless relief innings. "We were just talking about that. We got a lot of good guys, a lot of battlers, guys who are having good at-bats or throwing strikes."

Patton and Ayala are chief among them. The duo, combined with Pedro Strop and Matt Lindstrom, continued to stonewall opponents, tossing seven scoreless innings before handing the ball to closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his eighth save of the season. Johnson improved to 16 of his last 16 dating back to last season, and his 1-2-3 13th lowered the Orioles' bullpen ERA -- which entered Friday with the best mark in the Majors -- to 1.56.

"It's unbelievable," Reynolds said of the Orioles' bullpen, which gave up just three hits and two walks over the final 24 outs. "These guys come in every night and they throw up scoreless inning after scoreless inning. We definitely wouldn't be where we are right now without those guys coming in and throwing strikes and keeping us in games.

"We have a lot of guys down there who we like to say [make] uncomfortable at-bats, throwing mid 90s, upper 90s. It's good to have those guys on that team."

Lindstrom tossed a scoreless sixth, needing just 11 pitches, to increase his scoreless stretch to start the season to 10 2/3 innings. Strop and Ayala both threw a pair of scoreless innings after that, with Ayala increasing his season scoreless streak to 14 innings. Patton, who earned one of the team's final roster spots this spring, allowed just one hit over his two innings and was singled out by manager Buck Showalter for his efforts.

"I thought Patton was big tonight," Showalter said. "I had him up two or three times, trying to keep the left-handers on the bench. And he got some right-handed hitters out in Fenway Park, which is tough for a left-hander."

The Orioles' efforts held down a Boston team that seemed to be heading in the right direction following a 7-1 road trip, but now has lost three consecutive games.

"There's been pretty good pitchers who have pitched against [us], and they've held us down a little," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "It's not like we're playing any different baseball. We're not getting those big hits because we're not getting any pitches to do it with."

The Orioles were able to overcome three early errors and were helped by a sensational double play by shortstop J.J. Hardy in the bottom of the eighth inning. With the score tied at 4 and Strop on for his second inning, Cody Ross smoked a ball toward center field that Hardy made a lunging grab for at shortstop. Still on his knees, Hardy fired the ball back to first baseman Davis to double up David Ortiz and clear the bases.

"The play by J.J., you just shake your head," Showalter said. "You don't get Brian Roberts to say 'Wow' much, but that was 'Wow.'"

The Orioles were able to knock Red Sox ace Jon Lester -- who entered Thursday's game 14-0 with a 2.36 ERA in 18 career starts against the Orioles -- out of the game after six innings of three-run baseball.

Reynolds scored the first run on his first homer of the year, a solo blast to start the third that snapped a string of 76 at-bats without a home run. It was the third longest stretch of his career and was met with silence from his teammates, who gave him a playful snub as he headed back into the visitors' dugout and ran into the tunnel.

"They were all sitting down, so I just ran in the tunnel," Reynolds said of his first homer, which he hopes will help him relax at the plate. "I think I stood Buck up. He was trying to give me a five and I ran by him, but I didn't mean to. I gave him a five when I came back out."

Five was how many innings the Orioles got out of starter Wei-Yin Chen, who turned in the shortest start of his career but wasn't helped much by a defense that committed the three errors and a second-inning passed ball that led to a run. The 26-year-old Chen exited the 100-pitch outing with five hits and three walks, allowing four runs (three earned) with four strikeouts.

Still, Chen was largely able to limit the damage, and the shutdown bullpen gave the Orioles' offense -- which missed a few opportunities early -- enough time to deliver the fatal blow and keep Baltimore rolling.

"The most fun I've had in the big leagues is when we went to the playoffs [in Arizona]," Reynolds said. "The atmosphere of coming to the yard every day and playing for that chance to get in the playoffs and make a run, it's fun. Right now, we're playing real well.

"We've just got to keep it going and don't get complacent and keep playing hard like we've been playing all year."

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