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A Birdland Salute to Brian Matusz

Every 2012 and '14 Orioles player deserves a salute when he departs, even the frustrating ones. Don't forget Matusz's most glorious moment.

One night where Brian Matusz did his job.
Like him or not, Brian Matusz was a playoff Oriole and now he's gone.
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The 2012 Orioles were, in a lot of ways, the very personification of the classic song Orioles Magic. Every game truly did have a different star as that team rolled its way to a postseason berth, surprising every purported baseball expert and prognosticator who never saw it coming.

Everyone from that team - and from the division-winning 2014 Orioles as well - has earned at least a little bit of a special place in the annals of the O's franchise. They all played their part in bringing baseball back to Baltimore, the unheralded and unexpected ones as much or more than stars like Adam Jones.

Another member of those '12 and '14 playoff teams has moved on from the organization. On Monday night, the Orioles dumped Brian Matusz onto the Braves, who sent back a couple of fringe minor leaguers in exchange for eating Matusz's remaining salary and the #76 overall pick in the upcoming June draft.

Let's not mince words here. Matusz was probably not your favorite Oriole and he certainly wasn't mine. When it comes to meeting the expectations that the industry (not just the Orioles) had for him when he was drafted #4 overall in the 2008 draft, there's no way to see him as anything other than a failure.

Yet it was that very complete failure that made him such a perfect contributor to the 2012 Orioles team. They were a team of misfits and of nobodies, a motley assortment of people from all over the place, many of whom nobody really wanted. Nor did the O's want Matusz, or at least not in their rotation.

Instead Matusz went into the bullpen. In this he finally found something that he could do, and so he did. He was as unheralded as the rest of them, another one of the misfits. O's fans who'd seen his 2011 season and his starts in the early part of 2012 certainly didn't expect anything from him.

Still, from late August of that year on, Matusz was a lefty in the 'pen, giving up only two runs in 13.1 innings in a role where he was mostly a specialist. No, it's not a lot, but it is something.

It's not a bad thing to be a LOOGY as long as you're getting the outs, and in the regular season in September and October of 2012, Matusz was certainly doing that. The league only batted .091/.167/.091. Do they make that 19-9 run quite the way they did without him? I say not.

Nor should his role in the Wild Card Game be forgotten. With two outs in the eighth inning and a man on second base, Matusz was summoned from the bullpen to face Josh Hamilton, a man who that very season had a .285/.354/.577 batting line - including an .833 OPS when facing lefty pitchers.

This is what happened:

If you were watching that game in the same mindset I was, you were waiting for the disaster. Matusz came on and set Hamilton down on three pitches. Good morning, good afternoon, and good night. Hamilton looked so bad in doing so that his own crowd booed him in response.

Before the game began it seemed like almost an impossibility that the Orioles could go into the Rangers home park, send out Joe Saunders as the starting pitcher opposite Yu Darvish, and end up winning that game.

Matusz's strikeout of Hamilton was when the impossible started to seem quite possible. That was when I started to look up the prices of standing room only tickets for a playoff game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards only two days later, the first and only postseason game that I have ever attended.

Forget for just a moment the crushing disappointment that you felt later that postseason when Matusz gave up the walkoff home run to lefty batter Raul Ibanez, or two years later when Matusz also gave up a playoff dinger to Mike Moustakas, who was horrible against lefties.

Let that sit for a minute because, unlike Shakespeare's Marc Antony, I come to praise Matusz and bury him. Whether or not any of us are happy with the sum total of his contributions as an Oriole, or with his being drafted immediately prior to Buster Posey, Matusz was a part of the only two good O's teams of my adult lifetime, and that's worth remembering fondly.

Matusz came to us from the University of San Diego. He was never that top of the rotation pitcher with four plus pitches. That much is certain. But he was a part of something special all the same, and now that he is with us no more, one fewer link is there to those great Orioles teams.

Matusz was drafted. He pitched. He is Birdland.

The wild card and division winning Orioles of the not-too-distant past fade a bit more into the mists of time. Of the 44 players who appeared on the 2014 O's, there are 16 remaining with the team. Out of the 52 men who played on the 2012 team, just 11 remain on the 40-man roster.