BALTIMORE (AP) — Brian Matusz handed the baseball to manager Buck Showalter and headed off the mound, walking ever so slowly toward the Orioles dugout as many in the crowd of 25,171 stood and cheered.
The left-hander could be forgiven for soaking it all in, because the ovation was a long time coming.
Matusz allowed two hits and struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings, Steve Tolleson and Wilson Betemit both hit two-run homers, and Baltimore beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1 on Tuesday night.
It was the sixth win in eight games for the AL East-leading Orioles, who improved to 4-1 against Boston this season. Tolleson homered off Felix Doubront in the second inning and Betemit connected against Matt Albers in the eighth.
Matusz (4-4) threw his fastball with uncanny accuracy and kept the Red Sox off balance with a nasty, dipping curveball. In winning his third straight start, the 25-year-old allowed one run, walked one and matched his career high in strikeouts. He threw 101 pitches, 67 for strikes.
After striking out Adrian Gonzalez with a wicked breaking ball, Matusz was done for the night. But the fans wouldn’t let him leave without thanking him for his performance with a long round of cheers.
“I had chills going through my body,” he said. “It’s such a great feeling to see the fans on their feet like that. You know, it
really means a lot to have the support of the fans behind us. It’s a pretty special feeling.”
Especially for Matusz, who was 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in a dismal 2011 that included two trips to the disabled list.
“I’ve come a long way since last year, when it was the opposite, when people were on their feet booing,” he said. “It’s
really special to be able to work as I have and be able to come back and get back to being my normal self and be able to see the support from the fans. There’s no better feeling.”
After starting 0-3 this season, he has won four of his last five starts.
“I’m getting my confidence back,” Matusz said. “Like I’ve said, I forgot all about last year. I look at that just as a fluke.”
The left-hander certainly made an impression on the Red Sox.
“He was hitting his spots, hitting the corners, getting ahead in the count,” Gonzalez said.
Darren O’Day struck out the final two batters in the seventh, Pedro Strop worked a hitless eighth and Jim Johnson got three straight outs to complete the two-hitter and earn his 16th save in as many tries.
Kevin Youkilis, who was activated from the disabled list before the game, homered for the Red Sox, who were seeking to climb over .500 for the first time this season. Instead, Boston reclaimed sole possession of last place in the AL East.
Matusz outpitched Doubront (4-2), who gave up two runs and four hits in six innings and notched a career-high nine strikeouts.
“Those things happen. Tough games,” Doubront said. “I just tried to stay calm and go deep in the game. Get a chance to let our guys do the job and score some runs.”
The difference was Tolleson, who came to the plate in the second inning with one home run in 62 career at-bats. With a runner on first, Tolleson sent a drive over the center-field wall.
“When I hit it, I said if that doesn’t go out then I’m probably not going to hit one out,” Tolleson said.
It was the first homer allowed by Doubront in five starts.
“Felix Doubront had his good stuff,” Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. “A walk and a home run and he gave up two runs. He was battling the whole way. He just picked a night when the opposing pitcher had good stuff and shut us down.”
Youkilis halved the lead with a shot to center in the fourth. It was his third homer of the season, the first since April 26.
Notes: Baltimore OF Adam Jones extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games. … Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia had his 20-game hitting streak against the Orioles come to an end. … The Red Sox put OF Cody Ross (broken foot) on the 15-day DL, purchased the contract of OF Scott Podsednik and moved RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 15- to the 60-day DL. … Orioles 2B Brian Roberts, who’s been sidelined for more than a year with a concussion, will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Wednesday with Double-A Bowie. … Orioles OF Nolan Reimold (back) will receive a second
epidural shot Friday. “We’re hoping this does the trick,” Showalter said. … Jake Arrieta starts for Baltimore against
Daniel Bard in the series finale Wednesday afternoon.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)