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06/28/09 12:40 PM ET

Three homers outweigh mound struggles

O's use long ball to drop Nats despite Guthrie's off night

BALTIMORE -- That's not how they drew it up. The Orioles dodged a difficult first inning from their starter and an ineffective performance from their first reliever on Saturday en route to a 6-3 victory over the Nationals. Baltimore got three home runs and four double plays in the win, making up for the troublesome night on the mound.

The high-wire act started early, thanks to hits from the first two batters faced by starter Jeremy Guthrie. The right-hander went on to walk three batters to load the bases and push home the game's first two runs. Guthrie would recover and hold the Nationals (21-51) to one more run, but the Orioles pulled him after the fifth.

"That's what pitching is," said Guthrie, speaking to his resiliency. "Being able to grind through the tough ones and hopefully being able to take advantage of the situation when you're pitching really well. This was a huge win that I can't take much credit for. I think the defense and the hitting was why we won this game tonight."

Guthrie hadn't walked three batters in a start since May 20, underlining his early struggles. Baltimore's Opening Day starter walked the third batter he faced to load the bases, and he issued another free pass to send home the game's first run. Guthrie wound up walking home one more run and escaping on a double play.

Guthrie (6-7) only allowed three more hits from there, settling down to control the game. Washington (21-51) only pushed one more runner to scoring position on his watch, and the Orioles slowly began to take control.

"I thought he backed off on his fastball. He stopped trying to overthrow it," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "I thought in the first inning, he was trying to pitch on one side of the plate and the other, and the ball was going out of the strike zone. After that, he backed off on his fastball. He wasn't throwing 96. He was throwing 93 and he had more movement and he located in the middle and he let the ball run for himself."

"We had Guthrie on the ropes," added Washington manager Manny Acta. "Bases loaded and no outs. ... We did a very poor job. The first inning set the tone."

Guthrie got a key double play in the third inning and retired the final four batters he faced. Baltimore (34-40) drew within one run in the second inning on a solo homer by Gregg Zaun, and after Washington extended their in the fourth, Nolan Reimold put the Orioles ahead for good with a towering three-run homer in the fifth.

At that point, Trembley thought he'd be best served by going to his bullpen.

"What I told him was if we're behind or it's tied, I'll put you back out there," he said of Guthrie. "I said, 'If we go ahead, I'm going to not let you lose it.' I'm not going to ask him to go to the well for the third time. He had to go to the well in the first. He had to go to the well again. I'm not going to ask him to do it three times."

The game pretty much turned on that decision and what transpired immediately after it. Brian Bass came out for the sixth and immediately buckled, sandwiching two walks around a double. The Orioles took him out quickly and went to Matt Albers, who escaped the jam on a fielder's choice and a 6-4-3 double play.

Baltimore got plus glove-work on both plays, with third baseman Melvin Mora staying with a hard-hit ball and erasing a run at the plate on the fielder's choice and shortstop Robert Andino making a clean pitch on the double play. Both Trembley and Albers credited that defense with perhaps changing the flow of the game.

"I was just thinking ground ball," said Albers of his mind-set. "Obviously, you want to try and keep the lead, but as long as I give up one and come out with the tie, that would be pretty solid."

"I thought our infield tonight played as well, probably the best we played all year," added Trembley. "The obvious [thing] is the job Albers did. ... I thought after he pitched last night, he kicked himself in the butt. He's been pitching up and not getting a whole lot of ground balls but, boy, tonight he came up big for us."

Aubrey Huff hit a late add-on home run for the Orioles, and Jim Johnson worked two scoreless innings. Closer George Sherrill pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 16th save in his last 18 opportunities. Guthrie, who has allowed three runs or more in five of his last six outings, helped set it up by refusing to give in to his wild start.

"I think I've had that situation multiple times this year, where I've actually been up to 50 pitches after two [innings]," he said. "The [game in] Texas is one that comes to mind, and I ended up leaving that one with the lead as well. ... It's the situations I put myself into with the high pitch counts early. I've actually felt like I've battled pretty well and been able to get deep into the game -- or much deeper than would be expected after that kind of start."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.