Brian Matusz, or any of the other Orioles starters for that matter, hasn't gotten much experience this season protecting any lead, never mind a four-run bulge. So perhaps it shouldn't have been a total surprise that Matusz looked completely uncomfortable in such a situation Wednesday night after the Orioles had one of their best offensive innings of the season.
Matusz managed to get just one out before squandering the four-run advantage in the third inning and then allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as the woeful Orioles lost again, dropping a 7-5 decision to the Florida Marlins in front of an announced 13,720 at sultry Camden Yards.
It was the second time in their past three games that the Orioles (19-52) blew an early four-run lead. They fell for the ninth time in the past 11 contests, and they've lost 11 straight games to the Marlins, who overcame the distraction of manager Fredi Gonzalez's firing earlier in the day and then erased a 4-0 deficit to give interim manager Edwin Rodriguez his first victory.
"They all hurt," Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel said. "We are trying to win as many games as we can. After scoring those four runs we thought, 'OK, we could add,' but we've been in that situation before many times. They all hurt."
The Orioles had their chances but went just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, with third baseman Miguel Tejada making the biggest out on a weak fly ball with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth and his team trailing by just one run.
Earlier in the inning, Samuel had catcher Matt Wieters bunt with men on first and second and no outs and Scott Moore on deck. Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino needed to take only a few steps to pick up Wieters' sacrifice attempt and get the lead runner at third. That loomed large later in the inning when Corey Patterson's infield single cut the Orioles' deficit to one run. However, Tejada couldn't deliver; he has just one RBI since May 27.
Wieters, who couldn't recall the last time he bunted in a game, said he was fine with Samuel's decision.
"It's the first bunt this year, but we do it every day in" batting practice, Wieters said.
"I just have to get the job done. We do it every day three times in BP. I just didn't get it out there far enough."
It, however, surprised Marlins reliever Brian Sanches, who issued a leadoff walk to Luke Scott in the inning and then a single to Adam Jones before he got the first out on Wieters' attempt at a sacrifice.
"I think I heard one of their guys say, 'We never bunt,'" Sanches said. "I don't know whose call that was. I'll take an out any way I can get it. The first out in that situation is big."
Paulino broke a tie at 4 in the seventh inning with a one-out double after Matusz had walked the leadoff batter in the inning. Chris Coghlan followed with an RBI double to give the Marlins a 6-4 lead and chase Matusz, who is winless in 12 straight starts. He allowed six earned runs on seven hits and two walks over 61/3 innings while falling to 2-8 this season.
Samuel said Matusz probably got tired in the decisive seventh and left a few balls up. Matusz, however, was bemoaning a lack of concentration that led to Florida's four-run third after the Orioles scored four of their own in the second.
Coghlan hit a one-out single and then scored when Gaby Sanchez drove Matusz's 1-2 changeup deep into the left-field seats. Hanley Ramirez then drew a walk and trotted home when Jorge Cantu lashed a 2-1 pitch into the seats. Matusz has allowed nine homers in his past seven starts.
"You should never look at the scoreboard and have that determine how you pitch," said Matusz, who watched fellow rookie Jake Arrieta squander a four-run first-inning lead against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
"You should go out each and every out and make quality pitches. So, the way I looked at it, I saw that I had a comfortable lead and instead of making quality pitches, I just threw the ball over the plate and left it up. It's real frustrating. It's just a lack of concentration in one inning."
Said Wieters: "When he was down, he was tough. But when you're down, down, and you make that one mistake, it looks like a beach ball coming up there because they haven't seen those types of pitches."
The two home runs quickly erased the damage the Orioles did in the previous inning against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco. In the Orioles' four-run second, they had six hits, the most they've had in an inning since they recorded six in their six-run fifth against the Boston Red Sox on May 1.
They also hit back-to-back homers in the inning for just the second time all year, with Scott and Jones doing the honors. Patterson also had a two-run single in the inning, in which things looked so shaky for the Marlins that Rodriguez had his bullpen ready.
But after Ty Wigginton's leadoff double in the third, the Orioles didn't get another hit off Nolasco until Tejada's one-out single in the seventh.
"That's why we're in the situation that we're in," Scott said. "It's been a collective thing. It hasn't been for a lack of effort. We've worked hard, we're playing hard, we're trying our best. Are we pressing? Yeah. I wouldn't expect anything less but to press in situations like this. We're human, and you can't escape it."
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