BOSTON -- It's no secret that the Orioles have their work cut out for themselves this season as Baltimore's schedule was ranked as the toughest in baseball by a number of media outlets. And in the middle of one of the more relentless stretches -- 16 consecutive games against American League East opponents -- the O's are starting to find their footing.
And continue to stomp on the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park in the process.
The Orioles churned out 15 hits, led by a career-high four-hit night from Jonathan Schoop, and used a career-high 2 2/3 relief innings from Brian Matusz to help secure an 8-4 series-opening win over the Red Sox on Friday night. Baltimore improved to 15-6 in Boston since September 2011 -- when manager Buck Showalter took over -- evening the season series at 2 and pushing the O's (8-7) over .500 for the first time since their Opening Day win.
"I think it's important to come in here and take Game 1," Matusz said of a four-game wraparound series that precedes three games in Toronto. "Regardless of coming in for multiple innings or a single hitter. Go out there and get a job done. Fortunately I was able to go out there for a couple innings and now the bullpen is semi-fresh for the next couple games."
Matusz came on after Orioles ace Chris Tillman labored through five innings and pitched around a one-out single before giving up a run in the seventh. Matusz allowed a leadoff double to Mike Napoli in that frame and one out later, Xander Bogaerts drove him in with a single to left field. But David Lough, who had just entered the game, fielded the ball cleanly and fired to second to nab Bogaerts for the second out, the O's Major League-leading seventh outfield assist. Matusz, who helped bridge in the wake of Tillman's short start, exited in favor of righty Darren O'Day after Daniel Nava grounded out in the eighth.
"I'm thinking that if we get into the season, I'm hoping there won't be as much need for it," Showalter said of having lefties Matusz and Zach Britton, who were stretched out as starters this spring, go multiple innings. "The way their batting order stacks up, I told Brian in the outfield, 'You may have an extended outing tonight.' And he was ready for it. I said, 'It felt like old times, didn't it?' and he said, 'Yes, it did. Don't forget me.'"
O'Day got an inning-ending groundout and finished the ninth to secure the victory for Tillman, who needed 122 pitches -- three shy of a career high -- to get through five innings.
"It was a lot more Boston than Chris' lack of effectiveness," Showalter said. "You take a look and go through the sheet, the at-bats and pitches seen, it's going to happen. There aren't going to be a lot of early-count outs. There's such a fine line between having not enough rest and having too much rest. I've looked at all the numbers on all our starters with six days and five days and four days, skipping a start. We just didn't like his bullpen last time. He actually, I think, was too strong tonight."
The O's offense flex its muscle early and often off Boston starter John Lackey, who gave up six earned runs for the second consecutive game.
After his first-inning double -- and run scored -- came courtesy of a close call that replay upheld, Nick Markakis doubled again to drive in Schoop in the third. Chris Davis followed with a one-out walk and Adam Jones hit his fourth consecutive infield single to load the bases off Lackey. Nelson Cruz came through, pushing the lead to four with a two-run single to right field.
The O's added two more in the fifth, with Matt Wieters' two-out single under the glove of first baseman Mike Carp scoring Schoop to make it a four-run game. J.J. Hardy followed the Orioles catcher with a single to left field, the O's ninth hit off Lackey, to make it 6-1.
"I thought he had good stuff tonight," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Lackey, who exited after 5 1/3 innings and 10 hits. "He managed their lineup with a couple of walks that were instead of giving in. They had a number of ground balls that found some holes; bunched some hits together."
Schoop gave the Orioles their final two runs, driving in Hardy off Burke Badenhop in the seventh and scoring Steve Lombardozzi in the ninth.
"As intense as those games are at this level, you do step back and watch Jon," Showalter said of Schoop, whose previous career-high single-game hit total was two. "It's fun to watch. He's got a great look on his face. He's just, real sincere, earnest look. He's not giddy. That's what I like about him."
Schoop is batting .304 as he continue to become more comfortable in the box.
"My teammates have helped me a lot, like Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Jim Presley, my hitting coach. They try to talk to me and tell me to be me," Schoop said. "Because [the opposing pitchers] throw me a lot of sliders, I have to change my approach and stick to my approach and learn to lay off of it. Stay aggressive."
Tillman outpitched Lackey, but the usually dependable right-hander labored. The 26-year-old stranded baserunners in the first and second before a 10-pitch at-bat with Brock Holt resulted in Boston's first run in the fourth. The at-bat, which put Tillman up to 86 pitches, prompted a mound meeting from pitching coach Dave Wallace, and the righty struck out Grady Sizemore to end the inning.
It didn't get any easier for Tillman, who surrendered a pair of runs in a 31-pitch fifth that would prove to be his final frame. After a leadoff double from Daniel Nava, Dustin Pedroia singled into right field. Tillman got two quick outs, but Bogaerts worked a walk and A.J. Pierzynski's blooper scored another run and kept Boston threatening. Tillman struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. to hold Boston there.
"It was a struggle," said Tillman, who has a 1.71 ERA in four starts. "I knew it was going to be a struggle from the get-go. It was a night where I was battling myself the whole time. Luckily, I was able to execute some pitches when I was in trouble and get through it."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.