Matusz masterful tonight; Showalter on J. Johnson (O’s win 4-1)

Brian Matusz walked off the mound to a huge ovation after striking out Adrian Gonzalez for the first out in the top of the seventh inning.

Matusz is done after allowing one run - on Kevin Youkilis’ homer in the fourth - and two hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked one and tied his career high with nine strikeouts.

Matusz’s off-speed stuff was off the hook tonight.

That’s two straight quality starts for Matusz, who made the most of the little bit of run support that the Orioles gave him.

Darren O’Day replaced Matusz and struck out the next two batters, Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks.

Jim Johnson could be called upon to protect the slimmest of margins. He’s 15-for-15 in save opportunities this season and has converted 23 in a row dating back to last August.

Remember how manager Buck Showalter was peppered with questions about Johnson’s diminished velocity in spring training, and whether the right-hander would be ready for the season?

“I went through some periods in spring where I was kind of going, ‘Boy, I don’t know if he’s going to quite get there.’ ” manager Buck Showalter said earlier today. “We had talked about, ‘What if?’ And I remember he finally had an outing toward the end of spring where we said, ‘There it is.’ You could see it on his face, he knew it was there. He kind of looked at you like, ‘I’ll get there, I know where the finish line is. I’ll get there.’

“We went through a long period there with him where we were really being cautious with him.”

Johnson has a shot at making the All-Star team. He certainly deserves consideration on this date.

It wasn’t long ago that plenty of people in baseball doubted his ability to close.

“Jimmy, there’s been a process with him,” Showalter said. “Everybody talks about different closers, but if you look at the process they go through to get here, I remember some of the things that were told to me by some people when I got here about Jimmy’s ability to pitch at the end of the game initially. And I didn’t agree with it.”

Did the perception change, or did Johnson?

“I think it was a little bit of both, the perception and there were some things with Jimmy, to be fair to everybody,” Showalter said. “The one thing you ask yourself about the role is how is he going to handle some failure. When you go out and close one-run games facing the 2-3-4 of a tough lineup in the American League East on the road, that’s a difference-maker. There’s a certain morale and mentality you have, too, when you feel like that’s enough, that might hold up. But there’s a respect for it.

“He just doesn’t throw his glove out there and (say), ‘I’m this and that.’ Jimmy never cheated the process. That’s why he’s getting a return.”

Update: Wilson Betemit just gave the Orioles two huge tack-on runs in the eighth inning with a home run onto the flag court after Matt Wieters walked with two outs. That’s seven homers for Betemit, and the first runs that Matt Albers has allowed against his former team.

Johnson has some breathing room as he enters in the ninth.

Update II: Johnson got a ground ball, a bouncer to the mound and a fly ball to left field. Nothing to it.

Orioles 4, Red Sox 1.

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