Three innings after he was in danger of getting knocked out of the game before even recording a second out, Brian Matusz found himself on the mound at Camden Yards in an improbable position.
He had steadied himself after walking three of the first four Minnesota Twins that he faced and he was rewarded when the Orioles presented him with a one-run lead on the strength of one fourth-inning swing from the torrid Luke Scott. But Matusz got just one out before giving the lead right back. Delmon Young launched a first-pitch hanging breaking ball in the seats and his two-run homer in the fifth pushed the Twins on the way to a 7-2 victory before an announced 22,299 at sultry Camden Yards.
Matusz allowed three runs on six hits and three walks over five innings in suffering his American League-leading 11th loss. The one-time Rookie of the Year candidate has just one win since April 18, a span of 17 outings.
The defeat was the Orioles' seventh in nine games since the All-Star break. They'll try to gain a split in today's four-game series finale today with rookie Jake Arrieta taking the mound opposite Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey. The Orioles are 2-7 on the season-long homestand, which ends Sunday.
The Orioles (31-66) mounted little against struggling Twins starter Scott Baker, who entered the game with a 5.15 ERA and had surrendered five earned runs or more in five of his last seven starts. Last night, he allowed just two runs on four hits over seven innings to continue his dominance against the Orioles. He's now 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA in seven career starts against them. In two victories against them this year, he's allowed just three earned runs in 15 innings.
The only hitter that Baker had much trouble with was Scott, who was robbed of a homer in the second inning when center fielder Denard Span extended well over the center-field wall to make the catch. But Scott got some redemption in the fourth when he lined Baker's 1-1 pitch into the right-field seats. The two-run shot gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead and was his 16th of the season, tying Ty Wigginton for the team lead.
In six games since coming off the disabled list, Scott has four homers and eight RBIs. It was his two-run shot in the sixth inning on Friday that proved to be the game-winning runs in the Orioles' 3-2 victory.
But the Orioles lost the momentum following his latest home run almost immediately. After retiring Joe Mauer to start the fifth, Matusz allowed a single to Michael Cuddyer and then hung a breaking ball to Scott, who hit a soaring flyball to left. The only drama was whether the ball would stay fair and it did by a comfortable margin, giving Young his 12th homer of the season.
The left fielder went 4-for-4 and added a sacrifice fly to give him 73 RBIs, the fourth highest total in the American League. In the first three games of the series, Young is 7-for-11 with six RBIs.
While Young's homer gave the Twins a narrow 3-2 lead, they quickly put the game away scoring another run in the sixth on Alexi Casilla's single and three more in the seventh with RBIs from Danny Valencia, Jason Repko and Denard Span to make it a 7-2 game and seal Matusz's fate.
The rookie left-hander entered the game having allowed 10 earned runs on 11 nine hits and six walks while lasting just 4 2/3 innings over his last two starts. He appeared headed to another disastrous start when he walked three of the first four hitters that he faced and went to three-ball counts with five of the nine hitters the first time through the order.
Overall, Matusz threw just six of his first 20 pitches for strikes. Amazingly, he exited the 26-pitch first inning in which he found the strike zone just 10 times having, allowed just the one run.
He then stranded two runners in the second, one of them reaching on second baseman Brian Roberts' error, by retiring Casilla on a flyout to right field. He started getting into a little bit of a groove striking out three of four hitters that he faced at one point. But then came the fifth inning when Matusz couldn't hold a lead that he never figured to have based on his rocky first inning.