When the clouds finally parted over Camden Yards and Hurricane Irene gave way to a beautiful Baltimore afternoon, the reappearance of the Zach Britton from the first 2 1/2 months of the season was the best sight of all for the Orioles.
Four weeks after managing to get just one out while allowing nine runs against the New York Yankees, Britton continued the Orioles' nice run of pitching with seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory in Game 1 of a split doubleheader in front of an announced 22,049 at sun-splashed Camden Yards.
Fellow young lefty Brian Matusz then didn't do his part, allowing three home runs and six earned runs in the nightcap as the Yankees broke out offensively to post a 8-3 victory before an announced 37,528 that ended the Orioles' six-game winning streak. The streak had been the team's longest since April 2-8, 2008, but after a long day of baseball, the Orioles (53-78) salvaged no worse than a series split against New York (79-52).
"I don't take any special good feeling from splitting a doubleheader," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Every time we play a game, we want to win. I don't ever go into it being satisfied with a split. We pitched pretty well until a certain period of 18 innings [that] we had."
The nightcap was tied at 3 headed into the sixth inning before the Yankees connected for three consecutive home runs. Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher hit the first two off Matusz, then Andruw Jones bashed a solo shot off of Chris Jakubauskas to give the Yankees a four-run lead. That was plenty for Ivan Nova, who allowed three runs over seven innings in improving to 14-4.
Matusz is 1-7 with a 9.07 ERA and winless since June 6.
"I was battling all game," said Matusz, who maintains that he feels as if he's making progress. "I felt like I had good stuff, felt like I was in control. Just let the home run ball hurt me, pitches up in the zone. I was just working up in the zone way too much. I've got to be able to lower it, keep it down and keep fighting."
All eight of the Yankees' runs in the game came off home runs as American League Most Valuable Player candidate Curtis Granderson deposited two more over the wall, giving him 38 for the season. Granderson hit a three-run shot in the third off Matusz and a solo homer in the seventh against Mark Hendrickson.
Two consecutive brutal starts from Matusz have bookended an otherwise uplifting stretch of starting pitching. Before Matusz's clunker, Orioles starters had allowed just eight earned runs in 40 innings, good for a 1.80 ERA.
Britton has two solid outings during that stretch. He allowed just four hits and one walk Sunday in improving to 8-9 with a 4.28 ERA and has given up just one run in 12 innings since coming off the disabled list.
"I try not to make it too significant or relevant who they're facing, OK?" Showalter said. "There are some really good baseball teams in this league, so when you pitch like that when you've seen our last four, five, six outings, you feel like you're playing a baseball game instead of trying to survive. Guys have really been in an attack mode, and they've really gotten some return for it."
Britton was engaged in a pitchers' duel with Bartolo Colon before the Orioles finally broke through in the seventh inning. Nick Markakis hit a leadoff double and scored on Vladimir Guerrero's one-out single to right field. J.J. Hardy added a key insurance run with a two-out single to left off of Colon, who surrendered the two runs on seven hits (three by first baseman Mark Reynolds) in falling to 8-9.
"It just goes to show you that good pitching, if you pitch well and you go deep into the game, these guys are going to win ballgames for you," Britton said. "When we were going through that lull of not winning games, we were going, what, four, five innings, maybe less? I think the big thing for us is, as a starter, we know if we go deep into this game, if we keep our team in the game, we are going to win a lot of games. And we've been able to do that."
Jim Johnson pitched a perfect eighth inning, then Kevin Gregg got Alex Rodriguez to hit into a game-ending double play in the ninth after Mark Teixeira's one-out single off the first-base bag brought the tying run to the plate. Gregg has 19 saves, but he was plenty content to talk about the Orioles' young starting pitcher after the game.
It was Gregg who sat down with Britton for nearly two hours in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium after the 23-year-old was knocked around for nine runs (six earned) on seven hits and a walk over just one-third of an inning in the Orioles' 17-3 loss to the Yankees in the second game of a July 30 doubleheader.
"Britton did an outstanding job today," Gregg said. "To be able to come out there and stay composed, make his pitches, execute them deep in the game and push himself to a high pitch count, for him, he just did a great job allowing us to get into that spot."
The 120 pitches Britton threw were a season high, not just for the rookie starter, but for any Orioles pitcher. They also were the most pitches for an Orioles starter against the Yankees since June 1, 2004, when Sidney Ponson threw 128.
"I felt the last 20 pitches I threw felt better than the first 100, which is nice to see," Britton said. "I've never thrown that many pitches before, so to be able to go out there and finish strong was nice."
While Britton's past two outings have been uplifting, Matusz continues to give the Orioles cause for concern. In three starts since coming back from a 1 1/2-month demotion to the minors, Matusz has allowed 17 earned runs, 22 hits, five homers and six walks over just 16 innings. He has lost seven straight big league starts and surrendered six runs or more in five straight outings.
"He made a volume of better pitches, but Brian's capable of better," Showalter said. "He ran off some good sequences there for seven, eight or nine hitters, but it's a constant challenge."
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