The batter also rounded the bases tonight, the decisive blow in the Orioles’ 5-4 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Pinch-hitter Jerry Sands smacked a two-run homer off Matusz with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to break a 3-3 tie. He got ahead in the count 2-0 and pulled a 91 mph fastball into the left field seats.
Matusz threw three consecutive fastballs to Sands, who hadn’t homered this season.
“Anytime you get behind in the count, any professional hitter, it’s never a good start,” said Matusz, who has given up four homers in 25 1/3 innings, exceeding his total from 2013 (three) in 51 innings. “To follow it up with a fastball right down the middle, you put yourself in trouble.”
Matusz had stranded 19 of 22 inherited runners this season and 65 of 73 since 2012. Evan Longoria stood on first base after a drawing a leadoff walk against Darren O’Day, who retired the next two batters before Matusz entered the game.
“Personal things aside, we lost the ballgame today,” Matusz said. “Didn’t make a pitch when we needed it. (Wei-Yin) Chen pitched really well today, good enough to get the win. We just didn’t get it done.”
Chen allowed two home runs, to Yunel Escobar in the first inning and Ryan Hanigan in the fourth, that accounted for all three runs off him in 6 2/3 innings.
“He had a fastball that they got and had a 3-2 curveball that didn’t have any depth where a lot of them had been,” said manager Buck Showalter. “I don’t mind the call or anything. It’s just not normally one he throws there. Sometimes on a 3-2 count you think you just have to get it over, but we had trouble keeping it in the park.
“Wei-Yin, he wasn’t as efficient with his pitches as you’d like to see, but I think Tampa had something to do with that, too. But he got us to the point where we had a chance to win the game. That’s usually what you want out of your starting pitching. They got it too out of their guy.
“Brian has gotten some big outs for us here, just as Darren has and (Ryan) Webb has and some other people down there. Tommy (Hunter) is going to. It didn’t happen tonight. Usually, you like to have some pitches you’d like to take back, but you cant. But nobody talks about all the good pitches you made to get to that point.”
Showalter keeps pointing to the positives. The Orioles are 4-4 during a stretch of eight consecutive quality starts, and they were 2-9 with runners in scoring position tonight. They were 13-for-60 (.217) with RISP during the 10-game homestand. Missed opportunities are hurting them.
“I don’t live in that world,” Showalter said. “It is what it is. You can go back and find some really good things you did. You can dwell on the negativity. You can’t in the locker room. I know there’s a certain reality to some of it. We pitched well and I think if we continue to pitch well, it will work certainly to our favor.”
Chen allowed one home run over his first five starts and three in the first eight. However, he’s surrendered eight in his last six.
“I didn’t locate my pitches well and there were more balls that I left up in the zone, so that has resulted in some home runs,” Chen said through his interpreter. “That’s something I need to work on. And hopefully I can improve.”
Chen threw 78 pitches in the first four innings and 28 over the last 2 2/3.
“In the first few innings there was something that I could have controlled, but I didn’t do it well, so the opposing hitters hit a lot of foul balls and drove my pitch count up,” Chen said. “I also allowed two home runs and those home runs lead to the three runs allowed, so those are mistakes that I made. So, I have to take responsibility of those pitches.”
The Orioles need to take better advantage of this run of quality starts.
“Oh, man, it’s great,” Matusz said. “We’ve got five, now six really good starters, so to get that is clutch for the bullpen, it’s clutch for the team. Keep it going.”
Said Chen: “All of us when we go up there we try to do our best and give the team a chance to win. I wouldn’t say proud, but that’s something we are trying to do and will keep doing in the future.”
Chen has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his last 12 starts and has walked two batters in his last six outings.
Adam Jones leads the Orioles with six home runs in June, equaling his total from March, April and May - a total of 54 games.
Delmon Young hit his first career pinch-hit home run and the second by an Oriole this season. Steve Pearce did it on May 27 in Milwaukee.