It had been 161/3 innings since the Cleveland Indians had last scored a run, a fact that only added to the Orioles' misery from a two-run ninth-inning lead turning into a lopsided loss.
Trying to close out the Orioles' fourth straight victory and reward rookie Brian Matusz with a much-deserved win, closer Alfredo Simon imploded in the ninth inning, allowing an RBI single to Shin-Soo Choo, and then a towering three-run homer to Austin Kearns, the biggest blows in the Indians' eight-run ninth inning and 8-2 victory before a stunned announced crowd of 29,545 on Saturday night at Camden Yards.
"Eight innings of baseball, we pitched very well," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "We didn't pitch well in the ninth. We made real good pitches up until that point in time, but we didn't close it out. For me right there, he's the best guy for that situation facing Kearns. He got himself in trouble, you get yourself out of it. I think you go power against power. It has worked. He made a bad pitch."
Simon had walked the tightrope in almost every one of his five saves, but he had gotten the job done and earned the confidence of Trembley. But Saturday night, after getting the first out, he surrendered a single to Asdrubal Cabrera and then a walk to Mark Grudzielanek. Choo cut Cleveland's deficit to 2-1 with an RBI single that left runners on first and second.
Simon got ahead of Kearns, 0-2, before leaving a split-fingered fastball up and over the plate. Kearns sent it soaring 415 feet into the left-field seats for his third home run.
"That one was a split that didn't do too much," Simon said of the pitch to Kearns. "It was a little up, and the guy got a good swing on it. That happens sometimes. I felt good, but the split was not really good tonight. I just try to work hard to get it down. The pitch was up, and they got it."
Cla Meredith followed Simon and surrendered a two-run double to Mike Redmond and a two-run homer to Trevor Crowe to push much of the crowd toward the exits. The Indians had scored just one run in the first 17 innings of the series before the ninth-inning outburst.
"Bad nights happen in baseball," Meredith said. "That's an unfortunate one for us, that's for sure."
The Orioles (12-25) got their only offense on two solo homers from second baseman Ty Wigginton, who now has 12 on the season, one more than he had all of last year. But they did little else against impressive rookie Mitch Talbot, who allowed just the two runs and five hits over eight innings.
They also ran themselves out of a potential scoring opportunity in the fifth when Cesar Izturis was thrown out trying to steal second with runners on the corners and one out. Trembley said that Izturis' decision would be addressed privately, meaning the player probably either missed a sign or decided to run on his own.
Still, the Orioles had a 2-0 lead heading into the ninth, thanks to a gritty outing by Matusz, who threw seven shutout innings to put the Orioles in position to clinch the series win.
Matusz, who had lost three straight starts, flirted with trouble for much of his outing, allowing a base runner in every one of his seven innings. But he again showed his mettle, especially in the seventh, when he was one pitch away from watching his shutout turn into a potential loss.
Protecting a one-run lead, Matusz walked Lou Marson and Crowe, the Indians' No. 8 and 9 hitters, to start the frame, and both were in scoring position with one out. Matusz, his pitch count over 100 and the Orioles' bullpen busy behind him, got the second out when Grudzielanek flied out to right field, too shallow for the Indians to test the arm of Nick Markakis.
Matusz then retired Choo on a groundout to escape the jam. In a fine follow-up to Guthrie's one-run,two-hit gem over eight innings, Matusz allowed seven hits and walked four but was at his best when the Indians had runners in scoring position.
"It was a great feeling," Matusz said of walking off the mound after the top of the seventh. "Anytime you get out of a jam like that, especially late in the game, that was a great feeling. For Dave to leave me in and give me a chance to finish that inning, it means a lot. I'm really happy about bearing down and getting through that inning."
Matt Albers got the first out of the eighth, and then Trembley brought in lefty specialist Will Ohman to match up with Travis Hafner. Ohman walked Hafner, and Trembley again emerged from the dugout and handed the ball to Koji Uehara, who struck out Grady Sizemore to strand two base runners.
Uehara pumped his fist as he walked off the mound, and the Indians lamented another missed opportunity. But those emotions were reversed an inning later when Simon coughed up the lead. The eight runs were the most the Orioles have given up in an inning all season.
Afterward, Simon approached Matusz and apologized for costing the rookie his third win.
"Simon has done a great job for us this year," Matusz said. "He was 5-for-5, I think, in saves coming up to today. He's pitched very well. Some days you just don't have your best stuff. It happens with all of us."