BALTIMORE -- The final performance of Felix Doubront's first full season as a Major League starter was another example of why he could become a cornerstone member of the Red Sox's rotation for the coming years.
The lefty took a 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, but looked good in doing so, giving up seven hits and three earned runs while walking none and striking out 10.
"What I'm seeing is a guy who's really maturing," said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "He's in his first year starting, young kid. He's really starting to mature and go out there and see what he's really all about. He knows he's good. He's just got to go out there and continue to pitch well. That's exactly what he wants, and exactly what he needed to prove this year."
It was the second straight double-digit strikeout performance by Doubront, who insisted -- rightly, it turns out -- a few week back he didn't need to be shut down just because he had passed his professional high in innings pitched.
"That was one of my goals, to finish strong," said Doubront. "I learned a lot of things about the game, about pitching. That's what I'm proud of most."
Doubront finished the season 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA. Over 161 innings, he notched 167 strikeouts. Doubront is 24 years old and should continue to take leaps as he gets more experience.
"He has strikeout stuff," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "He had a spell there where he was getting ahead in the count and losing batters. He put that habit to rest, I think. [Pitching coach] Randy [Niemann's] worked with him on his tempo the last couple of games. He's worked quicker, looks much better, so I think when a young guy improves right up until the last game of the season, I think that's a good thing."
With the game locked in a 3-3 tie, O's rookie Manny Machado came up with the big hit against Doubront, a solo homer over the wall in left to open the seventh.
"You can't hit the ball much harder and lower than that, and it gets out of the ballpark," said Saltalamacchia. "He battled. The biggest thing to me was that seventh inning. He really showed what he was worth. He was tired, he was hurting and he was still going out there and pitching really well."
Yes, later in that seventh, the O's had runners on second and third and one out. Doubront responded by striking out J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones.
"He was tough all year with that man on third, less than two outs," said Valentine. "He ended the season striking out two pretty good hitters. I'm proud of the way he's pitched all season, and he should be proud of his first season in the big leagues. I think he's a good pitcher."
In this one, Doubront gave the Red Sox a chance to play spoiler in the American League East race, but he didn't get quite enough run support as the Boston bats continue to struggle mightily to score without David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks.
The win propelled the Orioles into a first-place tie with the Yankees in the AL East.
"They just keep doing what they have to do. [O's manager] Buck [Showalter] knows what he's doing," Valentine said. "He puts a defensive replacement in, he makes a diving catch. They've done a great job with their young third baseman. He beat us tonight."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox fell to 69-89, meaning one more defeat will give them their first 90-loss season since 1966.
The O's jumped out first as Machado's one-out, RBI single in the second made it a 1-0 game.
The bottom of the fourth got off to a bad start for Boston, as Mike Aviles made a throwing error on a ground ball by Jones. Two batters later, Chris Davis blasted a two-run homer to right and the Orioles had a 3-0 lead.
After that, Doubront didn't allow a run until the Machado missile.
"Doubront is filthy," said Showalter. "I remember seeing him last year. Had nothing to do with shadows or sun or anything. That was about as good of stuff as we've seen. You could tell early on. He was ready to compete early on."
The Red Sox came up with a big swing in the fifth, as Saltalamacchia unloaded for a two-run homer to right. It was No. 25 on the season for the 27-year-old.
"Personal goals in this game, for me, it's tough," Saltalamacchia said. "As a catcher, my importance is the pitcher. If he does well, I do well. It feels good to hit that homer and try and help the team win, but it obviously wasn't enough."
Boston went on to tie it in the sixth. After Jacoby Ellsbury and Scott Podsednik opened the inning with a single and a walk, Dustin Pedroia hit into a fielder's choice, setting up runners at the corners with one out. Cody Ross lifted a sacrifice fly to right -- which was dropped by Davis -- to make it 3-3.