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BALTIMORE (AP) — Setting the American League record for consecutive saves converted requires a remarkable display of consistency.
Patience also played a part for Zach Britton, because the Baltimore Orioles closer went more than 14 weeks this season between tying the mark and breaking it.
Britton converted his 55th straight save opportunity Sunday, blanking the Houston Astros in the ninth inning to seal Baltimore's 9-7 victory.
He struck out the first two batters and issued a walk before pinch-hitter George Springer bounced into a force play to end it.
"I never thought I could put together something like that at this level, with how good these guys are," the left-hander said. "I'll reflect on it eventually. I just want to get back to pitching like myself consistently."
Britton earned his fifth save on April 14 and endured more than two months on the disabled list with a strained left forearm before returning on July 5.
At that point, manager Buck Showalter refrained from using Britton in the closer's role until he was ready. Britton finally got the chance Sunday — and made the most of it.
Britton broke the AL mark held by Tom Gordon, who notched 54 straight saves with Boston from 1998-99. Britton started his run on Oct. 1, 2015, added 47 in a row last season and is 6 for 6 this year.
"A lot of us were here to see all of them and realize how hard that is to do, especially over that long a period of time," Showalter said.
The major league record of 84 is held by Eric Gagne of the Dodgers from 2002-04. Saves became an official statistic in 1969.
Baltimore broke a tie with two runs in the eighth against Luke Gregerson (2-3), using a sacrifice fly by Manny Machado and an RBI single by Jonathan Schoop.
Britton made the lead stand up, using 16 pitches to retire the AL West leaders.
Mark Trumbo homered and Adam Jones had four hits for the Orioles, who avoided a three-game sweep. Baltimore had lost eight straight to Houston, dating to last year.
"We're not perfect every game. We're not without our own flaws or things we can do better," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "There have only been a couple of nights where we got it handed to us. Most of the time we're in the game."
The Astros twice fell behind by three runs before coming back. Jose Altuve's 15th home run — the first of his four hits — made it 3-all in the fourth, and Nori Aoki connected with two on in the sixth to knot the score at 6.
Houston added a run in the sixth, but Trumbo tied it with a shot to left leading off the seventh.
Mychal Givens (7-0) worked the eighth for the Orioles.
Astros starter Lance McCullers gave up six runs and nine hits, walked two and hit two batters in 4 2/3 innings. In three starts this month, the right-hander is 0-1 with a 9.88 ERA.
"It's up to me and the coaching staff to watch some video and figure out what is going on," McCullers said.
Added Hinch: "He's going through a rut right now and things are not going his way. He's not getting beat around the ballpark as much as he is creating some havoc for himself."
Baltimore's Dylan Bundy allowed seven runs in 5 1/3 innings, including both Houston homers.
Astros: 3B Colin Moran was placed on the disabled list with a facial fracture. The injury occurred Saturday night when the rookie fouled a ball off his cheek, and he remained hospitalized Sunday. Houston recalled 1B Tyler White from Triple-A Fresno. ... LHP Dallas Keuchel pitched five innings in his second rehab appearance Saturday night. He's been on the DL since June 5 with a neck injury.
Orioles: SS J.J. Hardy, who's been on the DL since June 19 with a fractured wrist, is taking grounders but not yet throwing. "Right now, the stage is getting the mobility back," Hardy said. He will see a hand specialist in a week, then seek to strengthen the wrist before starting baseball activities.
Astros: RHP Brad Peacock (8-1, 2.49 ERA) helps Houston launch a three-game interleague series in Philadelphia on Monday night.
Orioles: Kevin Gausman (6-7, 6.11 ERA) seeks to level his record for the first time since April 18 when Baltimore opens a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Monday night.
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