June 2, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) talks with pitching coach Jim Hickey (48) and catcher Jose Lobaton (21) in the dugout between inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
There's an old baseball cliche that says momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher. That idiom held true today for Baltimore and Brian Matusz. After dropping last night's game -- their sixth in a row -- and falling out of first place, the Orioles responded with a 2-1 victory behind the arm of the young Matusz.
The 25-year-old has struggled for most of the season, but had his best outing of the year FIP-wise, posting a mark of 2.35 in his 7.1 innings of work. He's been death to left handed hitters this season, holding them to a 2.12 FIP and striking out over a batter per inning and continued that today. The Rays lefties reached base just one time against him, and that was via the walk. That was the theme for the whole offense, though, as they recorded just two hits and three walks total against Matusz. He used slider, his best pitch by far, to keep Rays hitters at bay, throwing it 29 times and getting 10 whiffs.
Jeremy Hellickson wasn't too shabby, either. He allowed the same number of baserunners as Matusz, struck out more and walked less, but, sadly, one more of his runners came around to score. He had all of his pitches working tonight, but the curveball was the most impressive. Of the 13 he threw 8 were whiffed on and four of his eight strikeouts came via the curve. He really only threw one bad pitch, a cutter that didn't cut to Endy Chavez in the third inning that he was somehow able to golf over the left field fence.
After a groundout Mark Reynolds hit a sharp fly ball to left that hit off the wall that Hideki Matsui was not able to field swiftly enough to hold him to a single. Had a better defender been in left, like a Desmond Jennings or Matt Joyce, the ball may have even been caught. It's impossible to tell, but having a sub-par defender in left didn't help matters. Hellickson got Wilson Betemit to strikeout but was lifted from the game after Ryan Flaherty reached on catcher's interference. Jake McGee induced a slow groundball to third by Roberto Andino but Drew Sutton was unable to get off a clean throw and sent the ball past an outstretched Carlos Pena into foul territory in right, allowing the go ahead run to score. Ben Zobrist field the ball and threw the second runner out at the plate to prevent another run from scoring but the damage had been done.
An error and two walks loaded the bases for the Rays with one out in the eighth inning with Ben Zobrist at the plate facing Pedro Strop. It was a pretty favorable matchup for the Rays. Zobrist leads the American League in walks and Strop came into the game with a BB/9 of over four. Unfortunately Zobrist, who has the lowest swing percentage in the AL (36.2%), offered at the first pitch he saw and hit a weak grounder to second which the Orioles easily turned into an inning ending double play. The Rays would go quietly in the ninth against Jim Johnson, who has been just as, if not more, amazing than Fernando Rodney this season.
Every team in the East is separated by just three games. This is going to be annoying/nerve racking for a long time.