NEW YORK - - In what potentially could be the last inning thrown by Brian Matusz this season, the Orioles' rookie left-hander provided one more sign of hope, and yet another reminder of how good he could become.
With two men on and two outs in the seventh inning and the finest outing of his young career in danger of unraveling, Matusz started pinch hitter Jorge Posada with three consecutive balls before striking him out with a 91 mph fastball. He then got ahead of Derek Jeter and finished him with a changeup that the New York Yankees' all-time hit king could only wave at on its way into Orioles catcher Matt Wieters' mitt.
Matusz was in complete control over seven innings, and Brian Roberts touched A.J. Burnett for a grand slam as part of the Orioles' six-run second inning. The Orioles' reward was a 7-3 victory over New York before an announced 46,497 at Yankee Stadium, and a chance for their first three-game sweep in the Bronx since June 6-8, 1986.
The Orioles (58-83) secured their first road series victory against an American League East foe this season. They also upped their road win total versus divisional opponents from four to six in a span of less than 24 hours.
A day after fellow rookie Chris Tillman surrendered Jeter's milestone 2,722nd hit but hung in long enough to get the win in a game that ended less than 12 hours before Saturday's began, Matusz allowed one earned run on four hits and two walks to win his fourth straight decision. He dropped his ERA to 4.63, the lowest it has been since after his first start.
"Certainly for Tillman and Matusz to go out there and pitch against [Andy] Pettitte and Burnett and give us two wins in Yankee Stadium on a weekend where there's been a lot of energy with Jeter's record and all that, I think it's good for us as a team and it's great for the young pitchers," said Roberts, who finished 3-for-4 and a triple shy of the cycle. "[Matusz] certainly showed today why people think he can be so good, for sure."
Matusz's performance leaves the Orioles with a difficult decision to ponder. The plan all along was to shut down the 22-year-old - who is in his first professional season - in the middle of September. Asked on Wednesday whether that plan remained, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said, "It's getting near the end."
Orioles manager Dave Trembley was asked after Saturday's game whether Matusz would make his next scheduled start Thursday, and he was noncommittal.
"What we'd like to do is enjoy what he did today and let him enjoy what he did today," Trembley said. "We'll play [Sunday] and go back to Baltimore and on the flight, we'll put all our heads together and see where we're at and we'll make a decision on where he's at. "
Matusz has pitched 157 2/3 innings this season, 44 2/3 of them coming in the major leagues. Expected to be honored this week as the Orioles' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he is a combined 16-4 in 2009, a season he started at Single-A Frederick. He has gone seven innings in three straight starts and is 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA in his past five.
"Obviously, I don't want to stop throwing, especially when I'm in the groove I am right now," Matusz said. "I feel like I'm really healthy and really in a good groove. I wouldn't like to end the season, but if it was the last start - if that's what Andy MacPhail and Dave Trembley decide on - then that's how it is and it would be nice to go out on a good note."
Matusz called Saturday's outing his best, something both his teammates and the opposition probably agreed on.
"Pitch after pitch, he sort of kept them from getting any momentum," Wieters said. "He made every pitch like it was important, which it was."
Said Jeter: "He had control of all his pitches. He mixed his patterns up. But that starts with getting ahead of guys. He really wasn't behind too many people. He scattered some hits, but we really couldn't get anything off him."
Before the seventh, Matusz was in trouble only once, and that was in the first inning. Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) scored Jeter from third with a sacrifice fly, and Alex Rodriguez followed with a two-out double.
Matusz then got Nick Swisher on a pop-up, starting a stretch during which the rookie retired 17 of 20 Yankees while gamely protecting the Orioles' 6-1 lead.
After securing a quick first out in the seventh, Matusz allowed a single to Shelley Duncan and walked Melky Cabrera. His pitch count above 100 for the first time in the big leagues, Matusz acknowledged that he was getting tired, leading to seven straight balls and a 3-0 count to Posada. However, he got the catcher to swing and miss at strike three and then struck out Jeter on a changeup Wieters described as special.
"I've learned so much," Matusz said. "It's hard to even explain. I feel like I've come a long way with a couple rough outings and then being able to string these last three great starts together. I feel really good about it right now."
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