ATLANTA – Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz's outing on Friday night came down to one batter — and specifically one pitch — against a rookie shortstop playing in just his 12th game in the major leagues. Matusz spent most of the night dodging disasters against the Braves at Turner Field, making key pitches to get critical outs. With two outs in the sixth, he was one out away from getting a quality start — and inched closer to his fifth win in his last seven decisions.
But that's when Matusz hung a two-seamer split — one that was supposed to be low and away — over the plate to 22-year old Andrelton Simmons, and the Braves shortstop of the future sent Matusz's mistake into the left-field stands for a two-run homer.
It was the biggest hit of the night — a swing that suddenly shifted momentum and gave the Braves a lead they wouldn't relinquish — in the Orioles' 4-2 loss to Atlanta, snapping Baltimore's five-game winning streak and dropping them 11/2 games behind the American League East-leading New York Yankees.
But when the Orioles looked back on the loss, they found that pitch didn't lose them the game. Their inability to drive in runs early did.
The Orioles (37-27) drew seven walks, including six from Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson but had just six hits. The Orioles couldn't score with the bases loaded in both the second and third innings. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and grounded into three inning-ending double plays.
“You keep getting opportunities and opportunities and they come through with theirs,” said centerfielder Adam Jones, who was 2-for-3, but was picked off first after a leadoff single in the eighth.
Matusz, who overcame some inconsistency with his fastball by leaning on his change up, did his share of pitching out of jams. Leading 1-0 after Brian McCann's solo homer in the first, the Braves had the bases loaded with one out before Matusz induced a 5-4-3 inning-ending double-play.
Matusz also faced runners at second and third with one out, but he gloved Simmons' come-backer and got the lead runner, then struck out Hanson to end the inning.
The only Orioles runs came in the fourth — a pair of unearned runs off Hanson after two Braves errors. After Mark Reynolds reached on a Simmons throwing error, Wilson Betemit — a former highly touted farmhand of the Braves — doubled and reached third on Michael Bourn's error in center. That scored Reynolds to tie the game at 1, and Steve Pearce's sacrifice fly scored Betemit to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
Chipper Jones led off the sixth by ripping a pitch from Matusz down the right-field line, but Chris Davis — who was making his first start in right field because the Orioles lost the DH playing in a National League park — made a diving catch to rob him of extra bases.
After Matt Diaz's single, Matusz struck out Jason Heyward. But with one swing, Simmons — less than two weeks into his big league career — changed the momentum of the game, taking Matusz deep for his second career homer, a two-run shot that gave the Braves a 3-2 lead.
“I had a lot of ups and downs [Friday] ,” Matusz said. “I made some good pitches when I needed to. I've got to be able to finish the sixth inning. That's something I've struggled with at times this year. I've got two outs and I wasn't able to get it done, which is really frustrating but you just have to get back at it and stay mentally tough.”
And in a nearly silent Orioles clubhouse after the game, the Baltimore offense took the blame for not being able to pick up Matusz.
“Matusz threw a hell of a game -- a hell of a game,” Jones said. “And it's frustrating that we couldn't get him a win. He threw really, really, really well.”