-- Heading into Thursday night, Orioles left-hander Brian Matuszhad strung together four quality starts and, gradually, was putting to rest concerns that he had lost the form that once made him the organization’s most promising pitcher.
Those worries would have faded even deeper into the past with a strong performance against a good hitting Boston Red Sox team at Fenway Park, where Matusz has struggled recently.
Instead, Matusz turned in his shortest and worst start of this season, lasting just two-plus innings while allowing a career-high-tying five walks in a 7-0 loss to the Red Sox.
“It was just everything [Thursday], just out of my rhythm,” said Matusz, who threw 67 pitches, and only 33 for strikes. “I couldn’t find my rhythm, couldn’t find the groove and obviously walks were the problem, and just didn’t have good command of anything.”
The defeat denied the Orioles the possibility of sweeping two series in Fenway Park in one season for the first time in franchise history. It also snapped the club’s seven-game win streak in Boston.
The Orioles (32-25) fell back into a first-place tie with the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the New York Yankees on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Red Sox (29-28) moved back over .500 and just three games out of first in the American League East despite being last in the division.
“I think Brian will be the first to tell you that he created a lot of the problems he had, and it’s real tough to get much tempo in the game or any crispness going,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It really does a lot for your offense, too. Stand out on the field there for 30 pitches in an inning and it really puts you on your heels, especially at the end of a nine-game road trip.”
Boston starter Clay Buchholz, who entered with a 6.58 ERA on the season and had allowed 10 total runs in nine innings in two games versus the Orioles this year, scattered four hits, one walk and no runs for the complete-game shutout.
“After seeing him a couple times this year, we had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to go out there and do. We knew he was throwing the ball well lately,” said designated hitter Chris Davis, whose second-inning double was the Orioles’ lone extra-base hit in their last 22 innings. “His changeup was really good [Thursday], his breaking ball was there when he needed it and he did a good job of keeping us off balance and throwing strikes.”
It was the third complete-game shutout in Buchholz’s career. They have all come against the Orioles, including a no-hitter at Fenway in 2007. The Orioles have been shut out just twice this season – and both came on this road trip; the last was on Friday in Tampa.
With Buchholz cruising, the game’s outcome was decided early thanks to Matusz’s worst outing since the last time he pitched at Fenway, on Sept. 19, 2011. In that one, he gave up six earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings.
“Any rough start is disappointing regardless of when it comes,” Matusz said. “But, for me, just look past this and move forward.”
The Red Sox scored two runs each of their first three innings. Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the first and Dustin Pedroia had a run-scoring groundout in the second. The Red Sox second run of that inning scored when Robert Andino overthrew first while trying for the double play.
Boston’s two runs in the third came on a Daniel Nava single against reliever Miguel Gonzalez, who hadn’t pitched since May 29, his major-league debut.
One of those runs was charged to Matusz (5-6), who gave up five (four earned) in the brief outing. In his last three games at Fenway Park, dating back to September, 2010, Matusz has posted an 11.40 ERA, allowing 11 earned runs on 13 hits and 10 walks in 8 2/3 innings.
“I know it is disappointing for him,” Showalter said of Matusz. “It’s hopefully a one-game setback. He’ll get the ball again and he’ll get an opportunity. It’ll be a tough four days for him because he knows he is better than that.”
Gonzalez, however, held his own Thursday, allowing just two hits and one run in four innings. His outing tied for the longest of the season by an Orioles reliever, matching Dana Eveland’s stint on May 28.
The 28-year-old right-hander, who had spent the past two seasons pitching in the Red Sox minor league system, was a possibility for Saturday’s spot start before throwing four innings. Tommy Hunter and Eveland are the most likely candidates now.
“We may need Eveland (Friday in relief), we’ll see,” Showalter said. “(Gonzalez) has twice come in in an extended role and presented himself pretty well, all things considered.”
The Orioles head back to Camden Yards for six interleague games, starting with Friday’s contest against the Philadelphia Phillies. They were 3-6 on the road trip to Toronto, Tampa and Boston – all division foes -- yet still hold a tenuous grasp onto first place.
“This is what's tough about this division. You face good pitchers night in and night out, and it's even tougher on the road,” Davis said. “So we're excited to get back home and rattle off some wins.”