ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters to hurry with their postgame questions. LL Cool J is performing at Tropicana Field, and Showalter wanted to rush back into the dugout and enjoy the concert.
Winning is fun, especially after six straight losses.
Brian Matusz held the Rays to one run and two hits over 7 1/3 innings for his fourth consecutive quality start. He’s 5-5 with a 4.41 ERA. And he’s now the club’s stopper.
“Brian’s a rare left-hander in that he’s got two breaking balls, a curveball and a slider that are two different pitches and present two different looks. And he had command of those today. And he was the difference in that ballgame,” Showalter said.
“Changeup, fastball. You get that four-pitch mix working, you can have some fun.”
Jim Johnson, in his first save chance since May 22, breezed through the bottom of the ninth.
“The mark of a true closer, you know you’ve got a really good one when they can close a one-run game on the road against the American League East, and Jimmy’s done that for us this year. But Brian got us there,” Showalter said.
“I’ve seen him as good if not better. I think obviously the team’s need was a good start from the starting pitcher. Another key for Brian in these close games like this is his ability to hold runners, which was really a challenge for him. When you face Tampa, you know they’re going to push the envelope on the basepaths. He got a pickoff there and didn’t have any attempts against him, hardly. And that’s a big part of his outing today, his ability to hold runners.”
Asked about Matusz building momentum, Showalter said, “It makes those four days in between even more, ‘This is something I stay focused on and I can maintain this.’ It’s one thing to get there, it’s another thing to maintain it. A lot of guys get kind of comfortable. I don’t think he will again.”
Endy Chavez gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the third inning with his first home run of the season.
“Endy’s track record is way too good for him not to reach another level for us,” Showalter said. “I know the dugout lit up because they know how much he wants to contribute, having been hurt and everything he’s capable of. You pull for guys like him. He’ll get it going for us. That’s certainly a need we have because we don’t really have anybody right now who fits that situation.”
One of the biggest moments of the game occurred in the eighth, when the Orioles turned a 4-6-3 double play after the Rays loaded the bases. J.J. Hardy caught a low throw from Robert Andino that was tailing away from him.
“That’s a hard play,” Showalter said. “A lot of guys are a lot of flash and bells and whistles and look at me come flying across the bag there, assuming a perfect throw. J.J. is as fundamentally sound a shortstop as I’ve ever had. He just doesn’t assume anything. You like him involved in every crucial play because he can slow the game down.”
The Orioles hope to keep the good times rolling this weekend before flying to Boston. They were having fun, the weight of that losing streak lifted off their shoulders.
Showalter wasn’t quite ready for an LL Cool J concert, though he did learn the titles of two songs. And trust me, it doesn’t get much better than hearing him say, “Mama said knock you out.”