In tonight's match up of underachieving former top prospects, Brian Matusz pitched his best game ages and Phil Hughes, well, he wasn't so lucky. The result was a convincing 7-1 victory that gave Matusz his first win on the season and manager Buck Showalter his 1000th win in his managerial career.
If you were to take the first inning of this game as an omen of things to come, you probably would have thought tonight's game was a disaster waiting to happen. Hughes gave up a two-out single to Nick Markakis, who was stranded. And in the bottom half of the inning, Matusz left a fastball up in the middle of the strike zone that Curtis Granderson crushed for a ridiculous home run. Both pitchers threw a lot of pitches in the inning, but that home run was enough that I got a little scared every time Granderson came to the plate for the rest of the game.
Luckily omens are stupid, because just a half-inning later Chris Davis hit a home run of his own to tie the game. It wasn't as majestic as Granderson's, but they all look the same in the box score. I'm not ready to declare Davis a star or anything, but I am thrilled at how he's been playing this season so far. I will happily eat crow for the next five months if he can keep it up.
After a 1-2-3 second inning in which Matusz looked quite comfortable, the Orioles took a lead in the third inning that they wouldn't relinquish. Robert Andino walked (his first of two walks on the night) then came around to score on J.J. Hardy's 4th home run of the year. It was beautiful, deep into left field.
From there on out it was the Brian Matusz Show. He gave up two singles in the third inning but came back with an eight-pitch 1-2-3 fourth. He gave up a double to Derek Jeter in the fifth, but the Cap'n was stranded at second. And in the sixth inning, Alex Rodriguez resorted to bunting his way on. He never got past first base.
Meanwhile, it looked for a bit that Hughes would also have himself a good game, but after hitting Matt Wieters with two outs in the sixth inning, he was taken out. Boone Logan replaced Hughes and gave up back-to-back singles to Davis and Wilson Betemit, the latter knocking in Wieters. Logan then faced sad sad Nick Johnson, who hit a fly ball to left field that should have ended the inning. "Left fielder" Eduardo Nunez completely botched the play and both Davis and Betemit scored. For a brief, shining moment it seemed that maybe Johnson would have his first hit of the season, but ultimately it was ruled E7.
Now staked to a six-run lead, Matusz returned for the seventh inning and I really wanted him to finish it. I know it's the Yankees, but with such a lead it seems like you can afford to leave a guy out there to see how he reacts. Matusz walked Russell Martin on four pitches, then threw two more balls to Nunez before he popped out to shortstop. That was it for Matusz, who was tired. But sometimes I think maybe you should pitch a little tired. As Hall of Famer Jim Palmer says, if you never pitch in that situation you'll never learn to pitch in that situation. But anyway, it was a good night for Matusz. Darren O'Day came into the game in relief and put two on to load the bases (what a drama queen) before getting out of the inning.
And then something truly amazing happened. Davis doubled (not that amazing, although quite nice), and after Betemit struck out, Nick Johnson got a hit! A real, clean hit! It went down the right field line for a double and Davis scored the 8th run of the night for the O's. Yay, Nick Johnson!
Once O'Day completed the eighth inning without allowing a hit, the Orioles tried to make some more noise in the ninth. With a runner on first and two out, Matt Wieters hit a ball to right field. Jones ran to third and Wieters, forgetting that he's slower than molasses in January, tried for two. He was thrown out. Oh, Matt. Stick to singles and home runs, buddy.
Luis Ayala came in and pitched a perfect ninth to end the game, and what a great game it was. Timely offense, good starting pitching, and another superb outing by the bullpen. Not bad, Orioles. Not bad at all.