Nick Markakis receives congratulations from the Orioles dugout,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — — Brian Matusz clearly thought he struck out Kelly Shoppach. He gave an extra look into home plate umpire Brian Knight and then took a couple of steps off the rubber. It was as if Matusz was convinced that if he waited a little longer, glared a little harder, Knight would raise his left fist, pull back his right arm and send Shoppach back to the dugout.
Knight didn't and one pitch later, the Orioles' lead was gone, and their rookie left-hander was well on his way to another early exit. Shoppach's grand slam capped a five-run fourth inning for the Tampa Bay Rays, who pulled away from the Orioles to capture a 7-3 victory in front of an announced 36,189 at Tropicana Field.
"I would have liked to get that call because I felt like that's exactly where I wanted to put it on him, but you got to be able to be tough in this game because you aren't going to be able to get everything," said Matusz. "I got to be able to come back and repeat that pitch and I didn't. I missed up and above the zone."
Shoppach, a backup catcher who entered the game hitting .195, had just one home run and only one extra-base hit since June 30 when he sent Matusz's 2-2 90 mile an hour fastball into the left-field seats. It was Tampa Bay's first home run by a right-handed hitter since Aug. 5, and that was also a grand slam off the bat of pinch hitter Jason Bartlett.
Shoppach added another homer in the eighth, a solo shot off Alfredo Simon, to give him five RBIs. The Rays, who were shut out for the first 12 innings of the series, had 15 hits.
"Hitting the grand slam really opened up the flood gates," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "It brought the momentum back to our side."
Adam Jones had given the Orioles a 3-0 lead in the third inning with a three-run homer off the left-field foul pole against Andy Sonnanstine, but Rays' pitching retired 19 straight batters before Matt Wieters' one-out double in the ninth inning. The Orioles (41-76) managed just four hits for the game, and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"They pitched well," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "It's the reason why they are doing what they are doing over the long haul. They've got a lot of weapons down there and Joe uses them well."
The Orioles fell to 9-3 under Showalter, including a 3-2 mark on the new manager's first road trip. With a victory in Sunday's series finale here, the Orioles will have their first winning road trip since Aug. 11-17, 2008 when they took four of seven games against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. They could also claim their fourth consecutive series win since Aug. 3-15, 2004 when they took series against the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays.
But rookie Jake Arrieta will have to fare much better than Matusz did yesterday. The rookie left-hander allowed five runs on nine hits and two walks over five innings, raising his ERA to 5.28.
He's now 4-12, tied with teammate Kevin Millwood for the most losses in the American League. The poor start interrupted not only a great run by the Orioles' rotation – they had gotten 10 quality starts in 11 games since Showalter took over – but the momentum that Matusz had built in his previous two outings. He had allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his previous two starts after a stretch where he surrendered 18 earned runs, 19 hits and 13 walks in four starts spanning just 13 innings.
"I wouldn't say [he was] shaky," Showalter said. "I mean not everybody's working with all their gun powder this time of year. I've seen him pitch three times and he's had two good outings. He had an inning get away from him today, so I'm not going to dwell on that too much."
Matusz felt as though he made some decent pitches in the decisive fourth, which started on Evan Longoria's leadoff double and ended with Jones throwing out B.J. Upton trying to score on Carl Crawford's flyball. The Rays had seven total hits in the frame and also drew a walk.
"It just didn't go my way, a lot of balls just made it through holes, and a team like Tampa, they can definitely make things happen quick," Matusz said. "A lot of my bad starts this year, this is one of the starts where I felt like things didn't speed up. They didn't speed up at all. I felt like I was in good control the entire time. They just did a good job at being patient, getting the pitches they wanted and putting it right where you want it. It was a tough outing because I felt like I felt pretty good out there."
Even Shoppach admitted that he may have "caught a break" on the 1-2 pitch that at the very least, flirted with the outside corner. Both Matusz and his catcher, Matt Wieters, felt that the 2-2 pitch wasn't related to dwelling on not getting the call on the previous pitch. It was just a poor pitch at a poor time and it ultimately cost the Orioles the game.
"You got to turn the page," Showalter said. "That's part of it. I haven't looked at it, but I know the pitch you are talking about. You can't let one pitch do that to you. There are a lot of opportunities in this game, like I said, to make something not matter. We got a ball on the next pitch [and] you can't throw it there."