The Orioles have been waiting for years to develop young pitchers who will not be intimidated by the heavyweights of the American League East and will relish the opportunity of facing the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Left-hander Brian Matusz has opposed those teams only nine times in his career, far too small a sample size to draw any conclusion. The early returns, however, couldn't be any more encouraging for an Orioles team fed up with being punching bags against divisional foes.
Matusz pitched six solid innings, and Brian Roberts had three hits and drove in two runs as the Orioles won their third straight by defeating the Yankees, 4-3, before an announced Labor Day crowd of 46,103 at Yankee Stadium, where they had lost seven consecutive games, including all six this season.
"Obviously, we are not in the playoff run, but these teams are, and it's fun to be able to go out there and be a team that you can't just walk over, because we are playing good baseball right now," said Matusz, who won his fourth straight start to improve to 8-12. "And we are doing all the little things right. It's fun to go out there and beat teams in our division and continue this streak that we had."
Matusz allowed three runs, including a solo homer by Alex Rodriguez, in six innings and then watched Roberts break a tie with an RBI single to right in the top of the seventh inning off A.J. Burnett. The Orioles' bullpen got the final nine outs to preserve a one-run advantage with closer Koji Uehara, pitching for the third straight day, throwing a perfect ninth for his seventh save in as many opportunities.
Matusz is now 4-3 with a 2.56 ERA in nine career starts against the Yankees and Red Sox. In each of his five starts against the Yankees, he's allowed three runs or fewer. He's also surrendered just six earned runs in 25 2/3 innings (2.10 ERA) in four career starts at new Yankee Stadium and has two of the Orioles' three wins here in 16 tries the past two seasons.
"Good pitchers play against anybody and any team," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He bent but didn't break. He just kept giving himself a chance. ÃÂÃÂ Obviously, with the batting orders in the American League East, they are going to keep coming. One thing young pitchers have to do is they can never let their guard down. He doesn't. He attacked each guy. He deserved to get that 'W' today. I'm glad it worked out."
Showalter managed the Yankees from 1992 to 1995, but he downplayed any personal satisfaction about getting a victory over his former club.
"This is about the Baltimore Orioles," said Showalter, who is now 20-13 at the helm of the club, which is 52-86 overall. "We just can't give in. This is a competitive place. People love when you have problems and want to step on your neck when you're down. You have to be willing to do it when you have the opportunity."
It was another character-building win as the Orioles led for much of the game, but they went just 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and couldn't fully take advantage of Burnett's wildness.
But each time the Yankees scored, the Orioles responded with a run, as they did Sunday when they answered the Rays' four-run sixth inning with four of their own in the bottom half.
Matusz had retired 10 straight batters before Rodriguez's solo homer in the fourth tied the game at 1.
The Orioles regained the lead in the fifth on Roberts' single, and Matusz held it through the inning, thanks to a nice play by rookie third baseman Josh Bell on Derek Jeter's inning-ending groundout.
Matt Wieters' sacrifice fly in the sixth gave the Orioles a two-run lead, but Matusz allowed the first two batters he faced in the sixth to reach base and then threw a wild pitch to move them both up to scoring position. Rodriguez made it a 3-2 game with a sacrifice fly.
Matusz should have gotten a big second out without a run scoring on Robinson Cano's pop-up, but it dropped in shallow left, right between shortstop Cesar Izturis and left fielder Felix Pie, to tie the game. The Orioles lefty then retired the next two hitters to keep the game tied.
"That Cano ball was right there between Pie and Izzy, but I was able to get Posada out there and minimize the damage as much as I could," Matusz said. "And B-Rob had a two-out hit right there. It was just great momentum on our side to really turn things around. Our bullpen did an excellent job once again."
Added Showalter: "The key is [to] get off the deck and keep competing. I'm real proud of them for that."
In the decisive top of the seventh, Corey Patterson hit a leadoff single, moved to second on Izturis' sacrifice bunt and then scored when Roberts lined a ball through the hole and into right field.
"At some point, we are going to have to beat those teams a lot to get to where we want to go," Roberts said. "I certainly think it's something that, as a team, we have to do."