During the course of this season, Orioles rookie starter Brian Matusz has closely watched and often chatted up veteran starters Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie about the intricacies of succeeding in the big leagues.
On Thursday, in a 4-0 win over the Texas Rangers, Matusz mimicked his mentors' recent performances to carve out a little team history, while turning in one of the best performances of the season for the Orioles.
In arguably his best outing as a pro, Matusz pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and one walk to the vaunted Rangers' offense while striking out six.
"He was good, huh?" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There wasn't a pitch they could take out of the repertoire where they didn't have to worry about him throwing it for a strike. … It's good to see, this time of year, a young pitcher have that type of success against a good club. Nobody's operating with all their bullets, obviously, but to have that type of success this late in the year was impressive."
Matusz (5-12) joined Millwood and Guthrie to become the first trio of Orioles' pitchers to throw consecutive games of eight innings or more since May 2005, when Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard and Sidney Ponson achieved the feat. That was the only other time it happened in the 2000s for the Orioles.
"That's one thing Millwood talked about before the year. It's about pushing each other. The reason why those guys are able to go deep is because they pound the zone, they throw a lot of strikes and let the defense play," Matusz said.
"I don't go out there thinking, 'I'm going to go eight,'" he added. "But I know in my game plan I want to be able to attack the zone, work ahead, let the defense play, keep them on their toes and get in a groove. I was able to do that today and able to finish off the eighth inning."
The Orioles (43-79) have now won five straight against the American League West-leading Rangers (67-53), including a four-game road sweep to end the first half.
The outstanding performance also snapped a personal nightmare for Matusz against the Rangers. In his two starts at Texas this season, Matusz allowed 11 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He didn't get out of the third in one game, and pitched just three innings in the other.
"It's a tough lineup. It's a lineup that's really hurt me in the past," said Matusz, who matched a career high with eight innings pitched. "So, for me, I really wanted to make sure I was prepared and had a game plan."
Through the first siz innings, Matusz and exchanged zeroes with Texas right Colby Lewis (9-10), who didn't yield a run until the seventh, when the Orioles scored four times.
Corey Patterson, starting for the first time since Aug. 10, and Nick Markakis each had RBI singles and Brian Roberts delivered a two-run double that slipped past a diving Brandon Boggs in right field.
They didn't score again, but they didn't need to.
Although the offensive fireworks were limited, there were some sparks in the top of the sixth near third base.
Locked in a scoreless tie, Rangers' second baseman Andres Blanco hit a leadoff double to right and attempted to stretch it into a triple. Markakis barehanded the carom, threw a strike to Roberts who in turn threw the ball to Ty Wigginton at third.
Wigginton straddled the bag, blocking the base adeptly with his right leg while tagging out Blanco.
"That was a great baseball play," Showalter said. "I expect it from Wiggy. That's as clean a play as you can make. Defining it some other way, I'd take exception to that."
Blanco, who came up holding his left hand, wasn't particularly pleased. After being called out, Blanco began chirping at Wigginton, presumably for the forceful block. The spirited Wigginton walked toward Blanco, telling him loudly to go back to the dugout and lifting his right hand in the air to emphasize the out.
"I guess he wasn't happy with the play and that was it," Wigginton said. "I just know the ump called him out and there was one out and nobody on."
When asked what specifically he said to Blanco, Wigginton deadpanned, "I just said, 'You're out.'"
Blanco was equally nondescript in his post-game comments.
"It's just part of the game, trying to get the extra base. You got somebody who blocks the base and you get out. It just happens," Blanco said. "That's the first time I get into something with somebody from the other team."
Rangers' third base coach Dave Anderson quickly got between them and ushered Blanco toward the visiting dugout. Meanwhile a few players and coaches spilled onto the field from the dugouts and several Orioles' relievers walked out of the bullpen and onto the outfield grass but ventured no further.
"You've got passionate men that are playing the game at the highest level in the world and they care," Showalter said. "Both sides care. And that's why it's fun to watch. I thought it was handled well on both sides and we went on and played the game."
With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Wigginton doubled off the right-field scoreboard, igniting an approving roar from the announced crowd of 14,635. By then, though, it was the Matusz show, which turned into an Orioles gem and a third straight deep outing by a starter.
"I guarantee those guys in the clubhouse want to try to make it four," Showalter said. "They're trying to pass the baton now and give us a chance to win. I think this time of year, to see guys getting a little stronger instead of going in the other direction is really encouraging."
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