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  • Sep

    O's fall short in slugfest, 11-10

    Written by Paul Folkemer

    In a thoroughly ridiculous ballgame, a high-octane Orioles slugfest with the New York Yankees ended in yet another loss, 11-10. Folks, it’s hard to lose a game where your offense pounds out double-digit runs on 17 hits (including three homers) and every single member of the starting lineup has at least one hit. But the Orioles proved it’s possible, especially with the wilted husk of Brian Matusz going up in flames once more with a four-out, five-run debacle of a start. The O’s tried valiantly to keep pace, but stranded the tying and go-ahead runners aboard in the ninth.

    Anytime you play in the bandbox known as Yankee Stadium, there’s always the potential for a high-scoring affair. But it’s not usually this dramatic. I’ll throw some stats at you. The Orioles and Yankees combined for 21 runs on 29 hits, including 40 baserunners, and collected seven homeruns. The two teams used 12 pitchers between them, with the two starters combining to allow 12 runs and 14 hits in four innings of work. In the second inning alone, 20 batters came to the plate. If you’re a fan of pitching, please stop reading right now. ...Actually, I should’ve warned you to stop reading before this paragraph. Sorry! Hope you haven’t fainted already.

    Unfortunately for the Orioles, the main story of the afternoon was yet another horrendous, unsightly start for the utterly lost Brian Matusz. It is simply shocking how awful a pitcher he’s been this year. I’ve never seen anyone pitch this horribly time after time, especially a guy who was supposed to be one of the rising stars in the majors. Matusz initially wasn’t scheduled to start in this series, but he got the assignment because Jo-Jo Reyes left the team to await the birth of his baby. (Reyes’s baby, not Matusz’s. That would be weird.) So Matusz had one more chance to take a step in the right direction. Instead, he stepped further into quicksand.

    The afternoon was a never-ending struggle for Matusz. After retiring the first two batters of the game, Matusz allowed eight of the next nine hitters he faced to reach base. Ouch. Staked to a 1-0 lead on a Nick Markakis solo homer in the first (his 15th), Matusz gave it right back on a Mark Teixeira two-out blast in the bottom half of the inning (his 36th). He then issued a walk and gave up two straight singles, the latter an RBI knock by 88-year-old Andruw Jones, before striking out Russell Martin to end a 29-pitch first inning. The Yankees had a 2-1 lead.

    The O’s quickly gave Matusz a bunch more runs to work with. In the top of the second, they continued bashing Yankees starter Freddy Garcia. Vladimir Guerrero led off with a single, and two batters later, Mark Reynolds doubled. A Robert Andino RBI single plated Guerrero, and Reynolds scored the go-ahead run on a Martin passed ball. Even Kyle Hudson got into the act with a run-scoring fielder’s choice, his first big-league RBI, and J.J. Hardy drove in another run with a single. The Orioles batted around in the inning and scored four runs to take a 5-2 lead.

    Matusz, of course, promptly blew it. A three-run lead doesn’t mean anything for this guy, considering how he’s been pitching this year. Sure enough, he set the tone for the second inning by walking the leadoff man on four pitches. With a three-run lead. Seriously, Brian?

    Matusz got a favorable call on an outside 3-2 pitch to ring up Brett Gardner, which ended up being the final out he’d get this afternoon. Derek Jeter stroked a double to right to put two runners in scoring position, and Curtis Granderson brought them both home with a two-bagger.

    And that was it-- Buck Showalter had seen enough of Matusz. As have we all. He yanked the lefty from the mound with just 1 1/3 innings under his belt, throwing just 24 strikes to 22 balls. Matusz was torched again for five runs and five hits, walking two and fanning three. The damage would’ve been even worse if his 3-2 pitch to Gardner had resulted in a walk instead of a strikeout.

    I’m at a complete loss with Brian Matusz. After his previous start, I said that the O’s should just stick with him for the rest of the season and hope he puts together a couple of decent starts. Now, I’m changing my stance. I think he needs to be shut down. He’s clearly not progressing in any possible way. He’s essentially throwing batting practice every time he takes the mound. Whatever has gone wrong for Matusz this year-- and there’s no shortage of possibilities-- he only seems to be compounding the problem with each successive start. Just shut him down for the season, write off 2011 as a horrible failure for the young lefty, and give him a full offseason to get his act together and hopefully come back strong in 2012. I don’t want to watch him anymore.

    Of course, Matusz certainly wasn’t the only pitcher to get raked over the coals today. Multiple pitchers allowed three or more runs, three of whom were on the Orioles. That includes Chris Jakubauskas, who replaced Matusz in the second and was just as atrocious. Coming in with a man aboard, he promptly walked Teixeira and then plunked Alex Rodriguez on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases for Robinson Cano. Prediction: this will not end well.

    Boy, it sure didn’t. Jakubauskas threw seven consecutive fastballs to Cano, who jumped on the last one and clobbered it over the fence in right-center field. Grand slam. Of course. So what else is new? It was already Cano’s third slam of the year, and his 24th homer overall. And the Yankees were back in front in this roller-coaster affair, 8-5. They scored six runs in the second and sent 11 batters to the plate. They’re so much better than the Orioles that it hurts.

    Still, the O’s offense didn’t give up, shaving the deficit to just one in the third courtesy of Mark Reynolds, who blasted a two-run homer to make it an 8-7 game. It was Mark’s 32nd blast of the year, and it brought a quick end to Garcia’s night. He was ripped for seven runs and nine hits in 2 2/3 innings. Oh, sure, now the Orioles figure out how to hit Garcia-- now that they’ve given up so many runs that it doesn’t matter. Why couldn’t they hit him a week ago, when Alfredo Simon held the Yankees to three runs and the Birds still lost?

    Willie Eyre was the Orioles’ best pitcher today, working two hitless innings of relief in the third and fourth to temporarily stymie the Yankees. That opened the door for the Orioles to tie the game in the fifth on a Robert Andino solo homer off Scott Proctor, his third of the year. That was Andino’s seventh career blast as an Oriole, tying him for 159th place on the all-time O’s homerun list with such mashers as Bob Melvin, Hoot Evers, and Pete Incaviglia! Suddenly it was a brand new ballgame, knotted at eight, and Matusz was off the hook for a loss. Sheesh, he should thank his lucky stars for that. Aaron Laffey, the third Yankee pitcher, finished the fifth.

    The Yankees quickly pulled back in front on a big blast by a highly touted newcomer. Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ star hitting prospect who was promoted to the majors last week, socked his first big-league homerun to lead off the fifth against Jim Johnson. Montero got a curtain call from the frenzied Yankee Stadium crowd for his memorable blast.

    Montero wasn’t finished. Two innings later, he again stepped to the plate against Johnson with a runner aboard. And what do you know-- he did it AGAIN! Montero crushed a two-run homer to right, his second in as many at-bats, to extend the Yankee lead to 11-8. By now, Yankee fans were pretty much drooling all over themselves in unbridled ecstasy over the rookie’s two-homer heroics. They of course gave him another standing ovation. Boy, isn’t it nice when a highly touted prospect comes to the majors and immediately lives up to his promise? Maybe someday the Orioles will know what’s that like. It sure hasn’t happened recently.

    SIDEBAR: Johnson pitched three innings in relief today for the second time this year, and it clearly seems that Showalter is trying to get him stretched out so that he can make a couple of starts before the end of the season.

    The Orioles continued to try to chip away, but never quite closed the gap. Laffey and Luis Ayala combined on a scoreless sixth, with the O’s stranding two runners, and Ayala erased a leadoff walk in the seventh on a double play. In the eighth, though, the Birds got back on the board. Hardy doubled off lefty Boone Logan with one out, and Markakis singled him home. However, Nick tried to advance to third on right fielder Chris Dickerson’s wild throw, and he was thrown out. Or so said umpire Bruce Dreckman. Replays showed Markakis might’ve been safe. Had the call gone the other way, Markakis may have scored on Adam Jones’s subsequent infield single.

    In the ninth, the Yankees called on closer Mariano Rivera to shut the door, but the Orioles put up one last fight. Rivera got two outs with a Reynolds single sandwiched in between. Reynolds took second on defensive indifference, and Ryan Adams singled him home to cut the lead to 11-10. Pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold was hit by a pitch, and Matt Angle-- running for Adams-- swiped third base as Reimold took second. Wow! Suddenly the Orioles had the tying run at third, the go-ahead run at second, and the usually clutch J.J. Hardy at the plate looking for a big hit.

    Nope. Didn’t happen. Rivera proved his mettle for the billionth time in his career, striking out Hardy on a 2-2 pitch to end the ballgame. Ugh. Two more stranded runners. It sounds silly, considering that the Orioles scored 10 runs today, but they actually should’ve done even more damage. The Birds stranded 10 runners on base.

    Lots of runs, lots of hits...and in the end, it’s just another loss for the Orioles. Laffey picked up the win in relief; he’s 1-0 as a Yankee and 2-1 on the season. Johnson (5-5) took the loss, and Rivera notched his 38th save. Orioles lose, 11-10. Box Score

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