In Bronx, ball doesn't bounce O's way
Matusz shows moxie, but Tejada's error seals tough loss
NEW YORK -- Under the bright lights of the new Yankee Stadium, two of the Orioles' young and promising homegrown arms should have been basking in the afterglow that typically follows a pair of such stout performances.
But in a season full of missed chances and disappointing finishes, nothing has gone as expected for the club. Instead, rookie starter Brian Matusz was charged with his sixth loss of the season and 25-year-old reliever David Hernandez was left watching Alex Rodriguez's routine ground ball morph into a wild throw by Miguel Tejada, an error leading to two unearned runs and a 3-1 series-opening win for the Yankees over the O's.
"I think we're way past asking me about being frustrated or disappointed," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said of a stalled O's offense that left the bases loaded in the seventh and collected four hits off Yankees starter Javier Vazquez. "We're way past that. That's an understatement."
At least it was a statement. Following the Orioles' sixth consecutive loss -- and Major League-leading 37th of the year -- center fielder Adam Jones declined to speak with the media.
"I don't feel like talking to anybody, if you don't mind," said Jones, who singled in his first at-bat but struck out with the bases juiced in the seventh, dropping to 0-for-4 in those situations this season.
Jones' pivotal at-bat was followed by a groundout from Julio Lugo that denied Matusz any chance of inheriting a lead or a "W," which the 23-year-old lefty certainly deserved. After surrendering a leadoff homer to Curtis Granderson in the fifth inning -- the only earned run he allowed -- Matusz gutted out a season-high 108 pitches and exited in favor of Hernandez with two outs in the seventh and runners on second and third.
Hernandez, making just his second relief appearance this season, entered to face the menacing Rodriguez with the score tied at 1. He got A-Rod to swing at the first pitch for a routine ground ball to third, but Tejada's throw to first base fell short and skipped away from Ty Wigginton, who fell over in a failed scoop attempt, allowing Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher to score.
"As a pitcher, you just want to be able to make a pitch to get out of the inning," Hernandez said. "More times than not, that play is made by Miggy."
A converted shortstop, Tejada was charged with his second error in his past 32 games, and he said he knew instantly that it was a bad throw.
"As soon as I threw it, I saw the angle of the ball and [knew] the ball was just going down right away," Tejada said.
The outcome of the game went equally south. With a two-run cushion, the Yankees inserted reliever Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera to put the finishing touches on a game that the Orioles unquestionably let slip away.
Baltimore has lost 10 of its past 12 contests and has scored three runs or fewer in 32 of 52 games. The Orioles let Vazquez -- who entered the game 3-5 with a 6.86 ERA -- cruise through the first five innings, throwing just 61 pitches, before Corey Patterson sent a 1-2 offering over the right-field wall. Patterson's homer, which came with two outs in the sixth, was the Orioles' first extra-base hit since Cesar Izturis' RBI double in the sixth inning of Saturday's loss at Toronto.
"You know what? I mean, we can sit here and say whatever, but I believe good teams make their breaks," Wigginton said. "Right now, we are not making our breaks. We've got to find a way to do that."
Until the Orioles can do so, performances like those of Matusz and Hernandez will continue to go for naught.
Coming off several spotty outings, Matusz put on a show against the defending World Series champions -- on their home terrain, nonetheless. The young lefty navigated around a jam in the sixth inning, which Rodriguez led off with a second-pitch double before advancing to third on Robinson Cano's left-field single.
With the score tied at 1, Matusz got Marcus Thames to pop up to catcher Matt Wieters for the inning's first out, then he induced a shallow fly from Fransico Cervelli to keep Rodriguez firmly planted on third. Matusz proceeded to strike out Granderson looking, momentarily silencing the crowd of 43,059 in the Bronx.
"He controls the plate very well -- up and down in the zone, in and out," Granderson said of Matusz. "A lot of guys came into the dugout talking about how he was giving us good pitches to hit but we just couldn't seem to put good wood on him. I think that's one of the things he does really well. He's going to be a great pitcher for them."
Matusz, who had allowed a four-run first inning in each of his previous two starts, set the tone early on Tuesday, establishing a tempo reminiscent of his dominant early-season outings.
"I never lost any confidence," Matusz said. "It was just a matter of me being able to figure out what type of pitcher I am and slow things down, and get to my balance point and get everything going consistently."
For Trembley, it was the Matusz the Orioles had grown accustomed to watching.
"I think this turns the corner for him and gets him back pitching the way we all feel he's capable of doing on a consistent basis," Trembley said. "He had command of all of his pitches, and he really showed a lot in the sixth inning. It was top-flight for him."
Hernandez soared as well, tossing 1 1/3 innings with a pair of strikeouts, earning a place at the back end of the O's bullpen.
"We think he's ready for it," Trembley said of moving Hernandez from long man to late-game reliever.
"Tonight was kind of the first thing that will lead up to that. I felt like he really passed the test with flying colors."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.