Matusz, Orioles grind out 5-4 win over Rays

Club gets first win of season despite starter's shaky outing

April 09, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — — To understand how close young starter Brian Matusz was from getting yanked in the third inning of the Orioles' eventual 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night, consider the following:

"Let me just say that I had more than one foot on the top step [of the dugout]," manager Dave Trembley said.

New closer Michael Gonzalez's leash wasn't much longer in the ninth.

Matusz steadied and gutted through five innings when it looked as if he might not be around to get an out in the third. He then had to sit through a hairy ninth that saw Gonzalez, who blew a one-run lead two nights earlier, strike out the first two batters, then load the bases before retiring Ben Zobrist on a flyout to end the game and silence an announced crowd of 16,191 at Tropicana Field.

"That was a big thing now - just get the first one out of the way - now I can actually go and do me now," Gonzalez said. "Obviously, it's not good for the Baltimore fans. I'm sorry about that. But I'm glad I got that one out of the way."

Trembley acknowledged that Zobrist was probably going to be Gonzalez's last batter no matter what after the closer had sandwiched two-out walks of Dioner Navarro and Carl Crawford around a single by Jason Bartlett. If Zobrist had gotten a hit, the speedy Bartlett would almost certainly have scored the game-winning run from second. If the Rays' No. 3 hitter had walked to bring in the tying run, Trembley was prepared to summon Cla Meredith from the bullpen to face Evan Longoria.

But the Orioles exhaled because it never came to that. Heading into their home opener this afternoon at Camden Yards against the Toronto Blue Jays, they have at least something to show from the season-opening series, in which they lost the first two games by one run.

The Orioles, who struggled all series with runners in scoring position, took a 5-2 lead with a four-run sixth inning, getting offensive contributions from several players. Designated hitter Nolan Reimold bashed a solo homer off Andy Sonnanstine, who relieved Jeff Niemann in the second inning after the Rays starter was drilled in the right shoulder by a line drive off the bat of Miguel Tejada.

First baseman Garrett Atkins had two hits and two RBIs, and Matt Wieters had two more hits and drove in run, becoming the first catcher in club history to start the season with three multi-hit games. Brian Roberts also got two hits, a walk and a stolen base after starting the season 0-for-11.

But it all came back to Matusz, who allowed two earned runs on two hits and a career-high five walks while striking out seven over five innings. With no outs in the third inning, the rookie left-hander had already walked more batters (four) than he had all spring, when he issued three free passes in 24 1/3 innings.

"I can't remember the last time I walked that many guys in a ballgame, to be honest with you," said Matusz, a 23-year-old left-hander. "I was trying to do too much. I was overstriding, and it was throwing me off completely. And at times with my curveball, I was trying to baby it and get it in for a strike rather than just going back and letting pitches fly and relax nice and easy. But in that fifth inning is when I made it simple and really got into a groove. And it's nice to go out on a good note."

A case easily could be made that Matusz's best pitch Thursday night was his pickoff throw to first base. He caught the speedy Crawford in the first inning and then retired Longoria in the same manner in the second. Longoria had been a perfect 16-for-16 on stolen-base attempts in his career.

While Matusz's command was spotty for the first two innings, it abandoned him in the third. He walked the Rays' seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in succession to load the bases with nobody out.

Bartlett followed the three walks with a line single into left that tied the score at 1. Crawford gave the Rays the lead with a sacrifice fly before Matusz settled down in time to get Zobrist to fly out and to strike out Longoria and strand two base runners.

That started a stretch in which Matusz, who went to three-ball counts with six of the first nine hitters he faced, retired nine of 10 batters, culminating his outing by striking out the side in the fifth.

"Once the wheels start coming off the wagon, the game gets out of control and it spins out of control in a hurry," Trembley said. "In this place tonight, they have 10,000 cowbells ringing, the lights are flashing on and off. It's a circus, and he contained it. He has poise. That's it in a nutshell."

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