You know, sometimes baseball can surprise you. Just when you think you've got it figured out, just when you think you know what's going to happen, the teams will take the field and show you something you've never seen before, turning everything you thought you knew on its ear.
Then again, sometimes absolutely nothing surprising happens. Tonight was one of those times. A horrendous Brian Matusz, a horribly struggling O's offense, and a threadbare Orioles defense predictably combined for one of the worst games you'll see all year.
Oh, Brian Matusz. I just don't know what to think anymore. It seems every start brings him further and further away from the top-of-the-rotation talent he was projected to be when drafted. At times it seems like he's lobbing the ball over the plate, daring batters to hit it. Which they do. And hard.
Angels hitters were practically jumping out of their shoes to get their hacks in against Matusz tonight. In the first inning, three batters swung at the first or second pitch. That included Albert Pujols, who-- in his first-ever at-bat at Camden Yards-- smoked the first pitch down the left-field line for a double. Matusz, though, got out of the inning unscored upon. In the second, two Angels singled, but former O's farmhand John Hester flied out to the warning track to strand them.
Matusz was living dangerously, and the Angels took the lead in the third. Mike Trout led off with a fly to deep left that Steve Tolleson misplayed, breaking in and letting the ball sail over his head for a double. Well, that's what happens when you put infielders in the outfield. Torii Hunter promptly plated Trout with an RBI single to center, advancing to second on Adam Jones's ill-advised throw home. Fortunately, the Angels ran themselves out of a bigger rally when Matusz speared a Pujols comebacker and caught Hunter in a rundown off second, eliminating the lead runner. Mark Trumbo singled, but J.J. Hardy fielded a grounder up the middle and turned it into a double play.
Foolish baserunning continued to plague the Angels in the fourth. Erick Aybar was at first with two down when Hester dumped a single into left-center-field. Aybar was held up at third base, but when cutoff man Brian Roberts received the throw, Erick decided to make a mad dash for the plate. He was thrown out easily, ending the inning. Through four innings, the Angels had EIGHT hits-- by eight different batters-- yet had plated only one run. Matusz was playing with fire, balancing a tightrope, and walking on eggshells. Pick your choice of analogy.
Eventually, Matusz got burned by the fire, fell off the tightrope, and broke the eggshells. All at the same time! It was really something. In the sixth, he coughed up a two-run homer to Pujols into the first row of seats in left (Tolleson's leaping catch attempt failed). Remember when Pujols went like a month without hitting a homer? I miss that. That made it 3-0 Angels.
Meanwhile, the woeful O's offense was getting predictably dominated by Angels starter C.J. Wilson, who carried a no-hitter into the fourth. Then Jones and Matt Wieters singled, and Adam swiped third with one out (the Orioles' first steal in three weeks). The O's, however, have a bizarre phobia about batting with runners in scoring position, even when all it would take is a fly ball or well-placed grounder to score them. Mark Reynolds had a terrible at-bat, popping up for the second out, and Wilson Betemit's sharp grounder to second was flagged down by Howie Kendrick. At that point, the O's were 1-for-their-last-35 with RISP. But wait--it gets worse.
Steve Pearce led off the fifth with a homerun into the left-field seats, and the O's followed with a single and a walk. Finally, they were getting to Wilson! At least they were until they blew it again. Buck Showalter bizarrely had Brian Roberts sac bunt, violating my three rules: 1. Don't bunt in the fifth inning. 2. Don't bunt when you're down by more than one run. And 3. Don't bunt, ever.
But bunt he did, moving both runners into scoring position with one out. You can guess how well that turned out. Hardy smoked a liner to the left side, but Aybar made a diving catch. Jones then grounded out to second, stranding two runners. Make it 1-for-37 with men in scoring position.
Still, with the O's showing some signs of life at the plate, it would've been a good time for Matusz to put up a scoreless inning (or better yet, for Showalter to take Matusz out of the game). Nope! Matusz gave up a leadoff single in the sixth followed by a two-run homer by light-hitting Peter Bourjos, bumping the Angels' lead to 5-1. Showalter practically sprinted out of the dugout to give Matusz the hook. In five innings (plus two batters), Brian gave up five runs on a career-high 13 hits, with a fastball topping out at 89 mph. He's just a complete mess right now.
The evening wouldn't be complete without another spectacular failure by the O's offense, this one coming in the bottom of the sixth. An error and a single put two on for Pearce, who-- at long last!-- gave the O's a hit with a runner in scoring position, lacing a single to left. The only problem is that the lead runner was the plodding Wieters, who was forced to hold at third. That's just the Birds' luck-- they finally get a hit with RISP, and it doesn't even plate a run. For the third time in as many innings, the O's failed to score a runner from third with less than two outs, as Tolleson popped out and Robert Andino grounded to third to leave the bases loaded. Just awful. The O's had Wilson on the ropes numerous times, but bailed him out in every case.
The Angels continued to tee off on the Orioles' bullpen, with Mark Trumbo clubbing a solo homer in the seventh off Tommy Hunter (making his first relief appearance of the year) and Hester doing the same to Kevin Gregg in the eighth. Betemit responded with a two-run blast off 87-year-old Jason Isringhausen in the eighth, making it a 7-3 game. That, as it turned out, would be the final score, as the O's went down quietly in the ninth. Good riddance to this ugly affair.