There are a handful of pitchers in baseball who, regardless of the opponent, are simply unhittable when they are at the top of their game.
Perhaps Orioles rookie left-hander Brian Matusz will be considered one of them soon. On Thursday night, however, he was left to watch A.J. Burnett — with a mid-90s fastball, a devastating curve and precise control — play the part as the ultra-talented right-hander reduced the Orioles to a series of desperate swings and meekly hit balls.
Burnett allowed just three singles in eight scoreless innings, and Robinson Cano connected for two solo homers and a double in the New York Yankees' 4-0 victory in front of an announced 26,439 at Camden Yards.
"That guy has so much talent, when he has a day like this, it's hard," said Orioles third baseman Miguel Tejada, who went 0-for-3 against Burnett and then struck out against Mariano Rivera in the ninth. "He was on his game today. He threw everything he wanted where he wanted. I don't think he missed a pitch. Today was his day."
The loss dropped the Orioles to 4-18 on the season and 0-7 in series. They also are just 1-8 at home this year. They were shut out for the second time this season and have now been held to three runs or fewer in 15 of their 22 games. But to hear them tell it, nobody was hitting Burnett on Thursday night — not them, not the Boston Red Sox, not even the American League All-Star team.
"He's throwing 96, jamming a lot of people," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He had to work, but he didn't lose anything from the first inning to the eighth. He didn't lose anything. [He] probably got better. He's not going to give you very much to begin with. His command was very good."
Burnett's 116th and final pitch was a 92 mph fastball that Adam Jones offered only a half swing at before placing his bat and helmet near home plate and heading out to center field for the top of the ninth.
The at-bat could have served as a microcosm of the Orioles' struggles Thursday night against Burnett, who struck out four, walked only one and allowed only two runners to reach scoring position.
Jones, Ty Wigginton and Cesar Izturis had the Orioles' only hits, and two of the three of them were two-out singles off Burnett, who is 3-0 on the season, 10-2 in 14 career starts against the Orioles and 5-0 in seven career outings at Camden Yards.
"You have to give him credit to him," Tejada said. "He threw a pretty good game. He was just going after everybody. We hit a couple of balls hard, but they were outs. It was one of those days where the pitcher had control."
Matusz, who watched his six-decision winning streak dating to last year end, did little to diminish his reputation as one of the game's best up-and-coming pitchers.
He allowed three earned runs on nine hits, but his biggest downfalls were allowing the leadoff man to reach in four of his six innings and not being able to retire Cano and Marcus Thames. After grounding out to end the Yankees' one-run first, Cano smacked a solo homer in the fourth and a leadoff double in the sixth, while Thames hit singles in the second and fourth and an RBI double in the sixth.
Cano then capped his night by mashing a solo homer off left-hander Alberto Castillo in the eighth. He went 8-for-13 in the three-game series with three homers and three RBIs. In 84 career games against the Orioles, he's batting .340 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs.
"We couldn't get him out, and the way he's hitting right now, no one in the American League is getting him out," Trembley said.
Cano is hitting a major league-best .407 to go along with eight homers and 17 RBIs. Wigginton is the only Oriole with more than three homers and 10 RBIs.
"That guy is swinging the bat so well, you see all those hits he had today, they are off different pitches in different locations," said Matusz, who fell to 2-1 with a 4.40 ERA. "It was back-to-back curveballs and I left it up, and he did a good job of just taking care of that, but I thought the next at-bat, I located a fastball down and away pretty well, and he almost hit it out of the park."
Matusz will get another shot at Cano as he faces New York again Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. He can only hope that Burnett is not at the top of his game for a second straight start.
"Whether we score runs or not, that's nothing that I can control," Matusz said. "I just have to focus in on keeping our team in the game and giving our hitters the opportunity to come through with a win. He out-pitched me. It's tough, [I] have to move on to tomorrow."