In the sixth inning of the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter turned to bench coach John Russell in the visiting dugout of Fenway Park and made a prognostication in the middle of a tied game.
Left-hander Brian Matusz had just overcome a 3-0 count to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to strike him out on a full-count pitch. Matusz came into the game with two on and one out in the sixth, relieving starter Chris Tillman after he threw 96 pitches.
Before Matusz faced Boston shortstop Stephen Drew, who drew a pair of walks from Tilliman in his previous two at-bats, Showalter turned to Russell.
“I turned to John in the dugout and said, 'If Brian gets this guy out, I think we've got a chance to win this game,' because it really set up for us well the rest of the way,” Showalter said.
Matusz would strike out Drew to end the threat, starting him off 0-2 then striking him out looking on six pitches.
"Huge,” Tillman said of Matusz. “Brian did a great job. He definitely picked me up tonight. He's pretty confident coming out of the bullpen, and I think he made some great pitches there. That was huge for me."
Matusz spent the spring competing for a starting rotation spot, but the Orioles felt it was best for the team to keep Matusz in the bullpen. And he’s again proving his ability to be a lights-out late-inning reliever.
“I came in a little jacked up,” Matusz said “Tough situation, one out, guys on base. Obviously, Tilly pitched a great game, wanted to get out of that inning there. Fell behind in the count, and just kind of relaxed and trusted my stuff and trusted [Orioles catcher Matt] Wieters and was able to pound the zone and get the count to 3-2. Then I was able to drop a slider down there on the dish and luckily Salty chased on it. After that, with Drew, just wanted to come back and attack the zone and get ahead 0-2. Tried to be a little too fine with the next two pitches but able to make a good pitch and luckily get out of there.”
Matusz has stranded all three inherited runners this season, and including last season, he’s stranded 17 straight inherited runners.
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones -- who had his sixth multi-hit performance in nine games this season and drove in two runs, including the game-winner -- noted how big Matusz’s performance was.
“Oh yeah,” Jones said. “Usually when Matusz comes in, there’s somebody on base, and he inherits a lot of runners, and the fact that he got out of that situation, it sets the tone for us. I think it set the tone for the rest of the inning, the rest of the game.”