Matusz pitches Orioles to 2-1 win over Tigers

Brian Matusz won't be crowned the American League Rookie of the Year, like many baseball pundits predicted when the season began six months ago. Nevertheless, it would be hard to find another rookie who finished the season any stronger than the Orioles' 23-year-old left-hander.

Brian Matusz won't be crowned the American League Rookie of the Year, like many baseball pundits predicted when the season began six months ago. Nevertheless, it would be hard to find another rookie who finished the season any stronger than the Orioles' 23-year-old left-hander.

Matusz allowed just one run in six innings to take a six-decision winning streak into the offseason, and the Orioles edged the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, in a brisk two-hour game before an announced 35,332 tonight at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (66-95) will head into their season finale this afternoon with a four-game winning streak and looking for the sweep of the Tigers.

In the three games of the series, Orioles starters Chris Tillman, Jeremy Guthrie and Matusz have allowed just two earned runs and seven hits in 21 innings. Orioles pitching has also allowed four hits or fewer in four of its last six games, and both runs came off solo home runs.

"We've had two games in a row where a young starter gave up a home run early to go down and came back and pitched effectively, and that's impressive," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I thought [Matusz] was as crisp as he's been in a while, too."

Matusz allowed just two hits and walked two while striking out a career-high nine in six innings to finish the season with a 10-12 record and a 4.30 ERA. That constitutes quite a turnaround; Matusz was 3-11 with a 5.46 ERA when Showalter took over Aug. 2.

However, in 11 starts under Showalter, Matusz went 7-1 with a 2.18 ERA. He was even more dominant in his final eight starts, going 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA.

"There was a good stretch of a couple months this year where I didn't feel like myself at all," said Matusz, who allowed his only run Saturday night on Brandon Inge's solo homer in the second. "There was all this talk about possibly getting sent down [to the minors]. ... I wasn't in my groove, and I felt horrible. The best part about it was I was able to work with [pitching coach Rick Kranitz], stick with it and turn the season around. That's huge, especially being my rookie season, being able to go through hard times like that and really make it a strong last few months."

Matusz's only issue Saturday night was a high pitch count — he threw 27 of his 100 pitches in the first inning, which ultimately prevented him from getting deeper in the game.

But the Orioles' bullpen preserved the lead, retiring nine of the 10 hitters it faced. Michael Gonzalez struck out two of three batters in the seventh. Jim Johnson pitched a perfect eighth with the help of two sterling defensive plays by shortstop Cesar Izturis and right fielder Nick Markakis. Koji Uehara allowed a leadoff single to Ryan Raburn in the ninth before getting the final three outs to pick up his 13th save.

"I guess Brian set the tone for everything," Gonzalez said. "He had them off-balance the whole time. When a pitcher like that goes out and throws all his pitches for strikes, that's what's going to happen."

Tigers starter Armando Galarraga was pretty impressive himself, retiring the first 10 Orioles before Nick Markakis tied the game at 1 with a solo homer in the fourth. It was Markakis' 12th homer of the season and his second in as many games.

The Orioles then pushed the eventual winning run across in the fifth when Felix Pie hit a leadoff double and scored on Matt Wieters' sacrifice fly that chased rookie center fielder Austin Jackson all the way back to the wall.

"He hits that ball [Sunday], and it's a souvenir," Showalter said.

The Orioles settled for a sacrifice fly, and that was more than enough on another night where their resurgent pitching staff dominated the game.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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