The Orioles 6-game losing streak is history, primarily thanks to Brian Matusz. Matusz gave up just 1 run on 2 hits and 3 walks in 7.1 innings, leading the Birds past Tampa 2-1 Saturday.
For the Orioles, the game marked a return to the formula that had led them to becoming the biggest surprise in baseball up until a week ago: solid starting pitching, a shut-down bullpen performance, and just enough offense to squeak by.
Actually, Matusz’s performance went well beyond solid. The lefty dominated the Rays, giving the struggling offense exactly what it needed. Matusz’s 4th consecutive quality start evened his record at 5-5 and put the Orioles back into a first place tie with Tampa Bay in the AL East.
Endy Chavez poked a 2-out solo home run in the 3rd — his first of the year — to put the Orioles on the board against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. Matusz cruised along until the 5th. Sean Rodriguez led off with a double, and moved to 3rd on a groundout.
With the infield drawn in, Rodriguez broke for the plate on third baseman Drew Sutton’s slow roller to Robert Andino. Andino threw home, but Matt Wieters uncharacteristically did not block the plate, and Rodriguez beat his sweep tag, to tie things at 1.
In the 7th, Mark Reynolds hit a 1-out double. Wilson Betemit struck out. Then Ryan Flaherty reached on catcher’s interference. After a pitching change, Andino hit a slow roller to Sutton, who threw past first baseman Carlos Pena. Reynolds scored on the play, and Flaherty was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
Things got interesting in the bottom of the 8th. With 1 out, Elliot Johnson reached on Mark Reynolds’ 7th error of the season (his first as the first baseman). Pena walked, and Buck Showalter went to the bullpen for Pedro Strop, who promptly served up a wild pitch, then walked BJ Upton.
But with the bases loaded and just 1 out, Strop induced Ben Zobrist into a 4-6-3 double play, aided by a great catch and turn at shortstop by JJ Hardy. Closer Jim Johnson came on for a 1-2-3 bottom of the 9th, evening the series at a game apiece, and giving the Birds a chance to take 2 of 3 in Tampa Bay with a win tomorrow. Jake Arrieta looks for his 3rd win of the year, up against left hander Matt Moore. Game time is 1:40.
- It looks like perhaps Matusz is becoming the pitcher he was emerging as at the end of 2010. His last 4 outings have been quality starts, in which he has allowed just 8 earned runs on 18 hits with 23 strikeouts in just over 25 innings.
- Endy Chavez making an offensive impact was not only necessary today, it will continue to be so with this roster moving forward.
- There hasn’t been much of an opportunity to use closer Jim Johnson over the last week, and there was every reason to expect him to be a bit rusty in his first save situation since May 22, especially with the slimmest of margins. But he shut the Rays down in order, and continues to be perfect in those situations this year.
- Another error from Mark Reynolds, this time late in the game. He’s fortunate the bullpen was able to work around it, albeit very tediously.
- Although 3 of them went for extra bases, the Birds collected just 5 base hits, and the offense continued its struggles.