Blank expression: Matusz shuts down Texas
Baltimore beats AL West leader for fifth consecutive time
BALTIMORE -- On the eve of facing his former club, Orioles manager Buck Showalter spoke of the tall task it would be for last-place Baltimore to try to hang with an American League West-leading Texas team.
But these O's -- playing far better baseball under their new skipper -- weren't satisfied with just sticking around. Instead, Baltimore broke open a scoreless game with a four-run seventh for its fifth consecutive win over the Rangers, a 4-0 resounding series-opening statement on Thursday.
It started, as it so often has under Showalter, with the Orioles starter. Rookie Brian Matusz, who matched a career high with eight shutout innings, handcuffed a Rangers team that had blasted him to the tune of 10.95 ERA in his three previous career outings. That pitcher -- who twice failed to make it into the fourth inning in Arlington -- was nowhere to be found Thursday night.
"He was good, huh?" Showalter said with a knowing smile. "You know how hitters get in a rhythm off [Matusz]? There wasn't a pitch they could take out of the repertoire where they didn't have to worry about him throwing it for a strike. When you have that many things and speeds and break ... that was impressive."
Using pinpoint control and an imposing arsenal that included a devastating curveball, Matusz scattered five hits and struck out six, issuing just one walk in one of the best starts of his young career.
"I just prepared myself really well along with having good stuff," Matusz said of the 115-pitch outing, which was backed by several outstanding plays in the field.
"The defense was phenomenal. So, it was just a good mixture of everything. It's a good feeling."
Matusz allowed the leadoff man on twice in the first five innings, but both times, the Orioles turned a pair of double plays on a night filled with diving stops and backhanded grabs that invoked cheers from the crowd of 14,635 assembled at Camden Yards.
But no play got quite the reaction of Ty Wigginton's sixth-inning tag. Playing third base in lieu of rookie Josh Bell, Wigginton dropped a knee to the ground to block the bag and place the tag on Andres Blanco, who was sliding head-first in hopes of extending a double.
"I guess he wasn't happy with the play," said Wigginton, who pointed to the visitors' dugout several times to tell Blanco to go back to the bench. "And that was it."
That was an understatement. Blanco took offense to Wigginton's defense -- citing injury concerns for his hand and fingers -- and the pair engaged in a verbal spat before Rangers third-base coach Dave Anderson and third-base umpire Manny Gonzalez separated the pair
"I'd be more upset if he didn't [block the bag]," Showalter said of the play, which he referred to as "textbook" on Wigginton's part. "It doesn't surprise me at all. I expect it from Wiggy. That's as clean a play as you can make. Defining it some other way, I'd take exception to that."
As soon as Blanco started stating his problem, several members of the O's bullpen and the home dugout quickly filtered out to the field in the event of an on-field melee.
Instead, the play provided a much-needed momentum swing.
"It's a huge play," Showalter said. "And the thing I like was Matusz was standing right behind there and backed it up if it got by [Wigginton]. That's just good quality baseball all the way around. That's fun to watch."
So was Matusz, who became the third straight O's starter -- following Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie -- to go at least eight frames, a feat that hasn't been done by Baltimore since May 3, 4 and 6 of 2005. It's also the second time the Orioles have had three consecutive eight-inning outings this decade.
"[That's] one thing Millwood talked about before the year [started]," Matusz said of the suddenly surging O's rotation. "It's about pushing each other."
And pushing the opposing starter out. Texas righty Colby Lewis -- who wiggled his way out of a bases-loaded third inning -- matched Matusz for the first six before finally caving one out into the seventh. Felix Pie got things going with a single, and Matt Wieters sent a ball into right field to put runners on the corners for designated hitter Corey Patterson.
Patterson, in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 10, sent the second pitch he saw one-hopping into center field to easily score Pie and snap a scoreless tie. Brian Roberts followed with a crucial two-out hit, lacing a double into right field that Brandon Boggs slid and missed, allowing two more runs to sneak through. Nick Markakis singled to left field, scoring Roberts to give Matusz a 4-0 cushion. It proved to be plenty.
"They're trying to pass the baton now and give us a chance to win," Showalter said of the O's rotation. "I think this time of year, to see guys getting a little stronger instead of going in the other direction is really encouraging."
The same can be said for the entire Orioles team, which improved to 11-6 under Showalter, clinching its fifth straight series-opening victory.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.