BALTIMORE -- Jason Vargas and Miguel Gonzalez did battle earlier this season in Anaheim, and Vargas shut out the Orioles.
This time, Gonzalez and the Orioles got the last word, as they rallied to win, 3-2, on Tuesday at Camden Yards in a classic pitchers' duel. The win puts the Orioles nine games above .500 (37-28) for the first time this season.
Gonzalez said it was his best game of the year. And on both sides, the game featured plenty of hard-hit outs and brilliant defensive plays.
Trailing, 1-0, Baltimore scored a run in the sixth and took the lead for good in the seventh inning on a two-run single by Nick Markakis.
The Orioles had three infield singles after there were two outs to set up Markakis.
First, Danny Valencia reached on a soft ground ball up the middle that shortstop Erick Aybar couldn't make a play on. Then Steve Pearce singled on a ball that first baseman Albert Pujols fielded, leaving nobody to cover the bag. Then Ryan Flaherty snapped his bat on a weak grounder up the middle that got past the pitcher but died before second baseman Howie Kendrick could field it and make a play.
Reliever Scott Downs replaced Vargas to pitch to Markakis, who then stroked a single to center field to plate two runners and give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
"You want to be in those situations," Markakis said. "I've faced Downs enough to know what he's going to do up there. He tries to sink the ball in on lefties' hands and he does a good job of it. I was just looking for a ball up in the zone. Anything up that I could reach, I was swinging. He left one up over the plate, I put a good swing on it and we scored two runs."
The runs were charged to Vargas, who ended up with three earned runs to his name on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. Downs said after the game he was upset he let down Vargas.
"I've faced Nick over the years quite a bit," Downs said. "I knew what he was wanting to do, he knows what I'm wanting to do. He's a good hitter. In a situation like that, you really can't make mistakes. I was trying to run it in on him, and it stayed middle and he got good wood on it."
That two-run base knock was enough on a night Gonzalez was solid and his defense was spectacular. Gonzalez tied his career high with eight innings pitched.
"That was a baseball game as far as defensive plays," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You want to see defense. I'm proud to be part of that and watch those guys play defense.
"You seem to get those types of things happen behind guys who attack the strike zone and have good tempo. That's what you're always stressing, but it doesn't always happen. Vargas is a good pitcher. So is Miggy."
The Orioles looked like they had a great chance to get on the board in the first inning when Manny Machado singled to right field and J.J. Hardy smoked a ball to the bullpen gate in center field. But Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos made a sensational catch to bring the ball back over the wall and rob Hardy of a home run.
Machado scrambled safely back to first base on the play, but he was picked off later to end the inning. The play was reminiscent of the catch Mike Trout made against Hardy last June 27.
Over the next two innings, there were several balls hit sharply, but both teams flashed the leather in the field. Machado made a diving stop at third base, and on a different play, he started a 5-4-3 double play to nab the speedy Bourjos at first base. Chris Davis caught a line drive at first and stepped on the bag for a double play.
"You look at both ballclubs, they've got a lot of great athletes and ballplayers on the team," Markakis said. "When fans come to a game, that's what they expect: good defense, hitting and good pitching. You saw that tonight, and it was a good ballgame."
Trout broke a scoreless tie when he led off the fourth inning with a home run. He hit a 1-1 changeup out near the bullpen area behind the center-field fence for his 12th home run of the season. Of Trout's 53 base hits this season, 27 have gone for extra bases.
Two batters later, Markakis made a running catch in foul territory, covering a lot of ground to get to the ball.
Gonzalez, who is expecting the birth of his daughter in eight days, allowed just four hits and one earned run, the solo shot to Trout. He struck out five batters and only walked one.
"I have to keep working out, keep doing what I'm doing in between starts, what I need to do, and I'll focus on my family after," Gonzalez said.
But he's understandably distracted by it at times.
"I'm thinking about it no matter what, every time I go out there," Gonzalez said. "I think about my baby girl coming soon, anytime. So, I'm pretty happy about it."
Closer Jim Johnson relieved Gonzalez in the ninth and Josh Hamilton doubled with two outs. Pujols drove him in with a slow roller up the middle. But Mark Trumbo struck out looking and Johnson held on for his 23rd save.
With the win in the books, the Orioles can turn their attention to Wednesday afternoon's series finale.
"We're 2-0, sitting where we want to sit and looking for a third win tomorrow," Markakis said.
Derek Wetmore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.