Brian Matusz and his 7.98 ERA took the mound tonight and I admit, I didn't have very high hopes. Well, I owe Matusz an apology, because he actually looked like a major-league pitcher tonight. And in addition to that, the bats finally woke up (although it took them a few innings) in this series as the Orioles swept the Jays out of Baltimore with a 5-2 win.
Matusz walked the first batter he saw, Yunel Escobar, and I sighed. Watching Matusz struggle is easily the toughest thing I've to endure so far this baseball season, and every time he does something like walk the first guy he sees,I feel that dread creeping in. But Matusz didn't feel the dread; he induced a ground ball from Brett Lawrie for a double play, and one fly ball out later he was out of the inning unscathed.
Through the next several innings Matusz almost resembled the player we were excited about before his disastrous 2011. In the second, third, and fourth innings combined Matusz allowed just two baserunners, both of whom reached on infield singles. In the fifth, J.P. Arencibia hit a solid double to left field with two outs, but Matusz stranded him at second by retiring the 78-year-old Omar Vizquel.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays starting pitcher, Drew Hutchison, was shutting the Orioles down. Hutchison is just 21 years old and making his second major-league start, which sounds about right. The Orioles love to roll over to rookie pitchers. Through the first four innings the Orioles managed just two baserunners against Hutchison and they were both Nick Markakis.
Finally, in the fifth, the O's broke the scoreless tie. Chris Davis, who ended up having a pretty good night at the plate, walked to start the inning. He moved to second on a single by Mark Reynolds, and to third on a fly ball to right field by Nick Johnson. That brought the youngster Ryan Flaherty to the plate, still looking for his first big-league hit. He did not get it, but with his fly ball to left field he did get his first big-league RBI. Davis came in to score to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. Well done, Flaherty!
Heading into the sixth inning, Matusz looked in control. His pitch count wasn't too high, his command looked good, and he finally had a lead. But then, just as it did with Jason Hammel last night, the defense let him down.
Matusz got himself into a bit of trouble, giving up a single to Escobar to start the inning and walking Jose Bautista with one out, but he popped Edwin Encarnacion up to second, and when Eric Thames hit a ground ball towards first, it looked like the inning would be over. But Nick Johnson, playing first base tonight as Chris Davis served as DH, served up some Roger Dorn Olé BS and the ball bounced over his glove. Both runners scored, turning the O's 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit. Originally the play was scored a hit, but it was later changed to an E3, making both runs unearned. Matusz retired Ben Francisco on a ground ball for the third out, but the damage was done.
The Jays lead didn't last long, however. Markakis lead off with a double, his third hit of the night. Adam Jones hit a ball deep into the hole at shortstop. With no one covering third, Markakis took off for third. Escobar didn't have a chance to get Jones at first, but he tried anyway. His horrible throw skipped past the first baseman, allowing Markakis to race home and Jones to move to second. That tied the score, took Matusz off the hook for the loss, and ran Hutchison from the game. He was relieved by Luis Perez, who looked fantastic. He got all three outs, including back-to-back strikeouts of the K twins, Mark and Chris.
With a pitch count of 92 and six strong innings under his belt, Matusz's night was finished. I would have liked to see him come back out to start the seventh, but it's hard to argue with letting him end his night feeling successful.
Darren O'Day relieved Matusz, side-arming his way to two perfect innings, striking out three. The Blue Jays couldn't touch him. Outstanding job.
Meanwhile, the Orioles offense wasted an opportunity to score in the bottom of the 7th inning. Johnson, who is still hitless on the season, was hit by a pitch and then Flaherty dropped a bunt down the first base side. The bunt was a good one, and it was helped by the fact that both the second and first basemen decided to cover the bag. The ball rolled to a stop wide of first base and Flaherty was safe. First major-league hit! All right! Sadly both runners were stranded as Casey Janssen came into the game to finish the inning.
Finally, in the 8th inning, we got to see some power from the Orioles. With Janssen still in the game for the Blue Jays, Jones untied the game with his 6th home run of the year. Closer
Jim Johnson Pedro Strop Luis Ayala began warming in the bullpen for the ninth while on the field Matt Wieters followed Jones's home run with a single. Darren Oliver replaced Janssen, and this is where I say that our Darren is better than their Darren. Their Darren threw a 78 mph slider to Davis who deposited it into the Eutaw Street seats. Nice, Davis! His second home run in as many games gave the Orioles a 5-2 lead, where it would remain (although Flaherty did add his second career hit with two outs in the inning). Ayala pitched a relatively drama-free ninth to preserve the win and the sweep.
With the win the Orioles are now 5-1 against the Blue Jays this year, just one win shy of their 2011 total against Toronto. Beginning tomorrow the Oakland Athletics will be in town for a three-game series. I think we can take them.