During all the mounting losses, the short outings, the brutal beatings from the opposition that left-hander Brian Matusz endured last season, the Orioles faithful remained fairly kind, with only a smattering of boos for his worst performances. Matusz was, after all, considered a key to the club's future after a solid 2010, and the fan base was just waiting to embrace him again.
So when he walked off the Camden Yards field Tuesday after throwing a two-hit gem in a 4-1 win against the Boston Red Sox, the announced crowd of 25,171 -- at least those there to cheer the Orioles -- showed its appreciation with a loud and long standing ovation.
"I had chills going through my body," Matusz 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."
Matusz (4-5) has won four of his past five outings since May 1, when he ended a personal 12-game losing streak, which primarily stemmed from a disastrous 2011 in which he went 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA.
Veteran manager Buck Showalter said he noted the fans' exuberance when Matusz headed to the dugout with one out in the seventh after his ninth strikeout of the game, tying a career high.
"Everybody wants to see these guys do well, and especially themselves," Showalter said. "The fans and everybody, they're waiting to embrace good baseball."
The surprising, first-place Orioles (28-16) continued their roll, beating the Red Sox (21-22) for the 10th time in their past 12 games versus Boston. Previous losers of two straight, the Orioles maintained their two-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the American League East, thanks to Matusz's best statistical performance since he threw seven shutout innings Sept. 27, 2010 against the Rays. This was by far his best outing of 2012.
"I'd have to say so," said Matusz, who allowed one run, on Kevin Youkilis' fourth-inning homer. "I was pounding the zone, getting ahead and putting guys away today. I mixed it up really well. I had all four pitches going for me, and [the] defense was solid."
It was Matusz's third consecutive game in which he walked just one batter, and his 6 1/3 innings tied his longest outing of the season. He had never allowed three base runners or fewer in a non-injury-shortened start in his big league career. He did, however, throw 101 pitches, something he would like to cut down in the future.
"Man, he was special tonight," third baseman Steve Tolleson said. "Locating all of his pitches. It seemed like every time he needed to make a big pitch, he made it. And that's a tough lineup to pitch against, and he did a great job tonight."
Tolleson gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the second inning by depositing a 92 mph fastball from Felix Doubront over the left-center-field wall. They were then held scoreless until the eighth, when Wilson Betemit hit a two-run, two-out homer onto the flag court beyond right field against former Oriole Matt Albers. It was Betemit's seventh home run this season -- and the club's major league-leading 67th of the year.
Tolleson's was a little more special, his first as an Oriole and just the second in his career. His previous homer came for the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 26, 2010, versus the Texas Rangers.
"When I hit it, I said if that doesn't go out, then I'm probably not going to hit one out," Tolleson said.
After the game, Tolleson received the now-typical shaving-cream pie in the face from center fielder Adam Jones.
"Jonesy is throwing the knockout punches with the shaving cream to somebody different every night, it seems like. I mean, it's a lot of fun to be in this clubhouse right now," Tolleson said. "It felt like a punch instead of shaving cream. But that's a great feeling. It's me tonight; it will be somebody else tomorrow."
Youkilis attempted to steal the headlines early, homering in his second at-bat after coming off the disabled list. Youkilis has more homers (22) and RBIs (84) versus the Orioles than against any other team.
But take away his blast, and a second inning that featured single by Adrian Gonzalez and a walk to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Matusz was perfect. He retired the final eight batters he faced, including five by strikeout, before turning the night over to the club's standout bullpen.
Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson combined for 2 2/3 shutout innings, with Johnson picking up his major league-leading 16th save with a perfect ninth. He has converted his past 24 save opportunities dating to 2011.
Doubront (4-2) was nearly as good as Matusz, striking out a career-best nine batters in six innings. He allowed two walks and four hits, including a third-inning single to Jones that extended the Orioles center fielder's career-best hitting streak to 14 games.
Ultimately, though, it was Matusz who received the spoils of victory, who again seems to have captured the favor of a fan base that is cheering much more often than it has in the recent past.
"It's a great feeling. 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."