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Matusz's gritty start lifts Orioles over Yanks

Matusz's gritty start lifts Orioles over Yanks

NEW YORK -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter -- a former Minor League player and Yankees manager -- got lost on his way back to the Bronx on Monday.

But while Showalter, making his first trip to the new Yankee Stadium since taking the reins in Baltimore, might have had a momentary lapse, his team has rarely played with more focus.

Buoyed by a gutsy performance from starter Brian Matusz, the Orioles edged the best-in-baseball Yankees in a 4-3 series-opening victory that marked their first win in the Bronx since Sept. 12, 2009.

"I'm not sure if they're aware of it in statistical terms, but they are aware of it emotionally, probably," Showalter said of the Orioles' 0-7 record in New York coming into Monday's tilt.

"We just can't give in. This is a competitive place. People love when you have problems and want to step on your neck when you're down. You have to be willing to do it when you have the opportunity."

Monday's win also improves the Orioles to 20-13 under Showalter and is Baltimore's third consecutive victory against an American League East opponent in the thick of a playoff push. The O's are fresh off taking two of three from Tampa Bay and have won four straight road games, dating back to Aug. 27-29's sweep at Anaheim.

"Since they got the new manager over there, they've got a different style of play," Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said admiringly. "They pitched a little differently [on Monday], a lot more offspeed."

And another dose of Koji Uehara. The O's Japanese closer, on for the third consecutive game, put an emphatic end on the Orioles' 52nd win with a pair of game-ending strikeouts that silenced a Labor Day crowd of 46,103 at Yankee Stadium.

"Every time they've called on him, he's been ready," reliever Matt Albers said of Uehara, who has a 1.44 ERA in his last 22 appearances. "You know he's got the ninth and that's going to be OK. It's been really big for us."

Albers and Jim Johnson each turned in a scoreless inning prior to Uehara, who picked up his seventh save in as many chances to back Matusz's stellar effort.

The 23-year-old Matusz, coming off a superb August in which he took home AL Rookie of the Month honors, continued to step up against the O's division rivals. He cruised through four innings on 56 pitches, being tagged only with a two-out solo homer from slugger Alex Rodriguez. The young lefty ran into trouble in the fifth, after Marcus Thames' single and a walk to Francisco Cervelli put runners on the corners with one out. But Matusz got Brett Gardner on a grounder and won an eight-pitch battle with Derek Jeter -- with rookie Josh Bell making the first of several impressive defensive plays -- to persevere through a 31-pitch inning.

"There's not too many places to breathe there," Showalter said of a lethal, veteran-laden Yankees lineup. "One thing young pitchers have to do is they can never let their guard down. [Matusz] doesn't. He attacked each guy. It's not that [the O's young arms are] getting stronger as the year goes on. It's just that they're not getting weaker, and that's good to see."

Matusz, who was admittedly out of gas in the sixth, pitched on pure guts. He issued a leadoff walk to Swisher and a base hit to Mark Teixeira, with the pair advancing on a wild pitch and Rodriguez's sacrifice fly bringing the Yankees within one. Robinson Cano's flare to left dropped between outfielder Felix Pie and shortstop Cesar Izturis to tie the game at 3, but Matusz didn't give in, making up for the miscue, by getting Jorge Posada on a ground out to end his day.

"It's fun to be able to go out there and be a team that you can't just walk over," said Matusz, who improved to 4-3 with a 2.56 ERA in nine career starts against the Yankees and Red Sox.

Added second baseman Brian Roberts: "At some point we are going to have to beat those [AL East] teams a lot to get to where we want to go."

Monday's win continued to prove that the last-place O's can do more than just hang around. While the Orioles let struggling Yankees starter A.J. Burnett off the hook several times, they were able to scratch out four runs over his seven frames. After Burnett pitched around a pair of leadoff walks in the second, Roberts' two-out RBI put them on the board in the third.

"On any given day, he can go out there and just make you look silly," Roberts said of Burnett, who looked downright menacing during an 11-pitch, two-strikeout first inning. "You just got to find a way to get a hit on those [good pitches] that you do get. "

Buoyed by Roberts' three-hit, two-RBI afternoon, the O's scratched out another run in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, respectively, before Burnett -- who was charged with four walks and a wild pitch -- turned the ball over to the bullpen.

"He's a pain," Jeter said of Roberts, who fouled a ball off his right foot in his first inning strikeout but said afterward that his overall health was fine. "Obviously, they're a different team with him."

They are a completely different team this last month. Fresh off their first winning August in 13 years, Showalter's O's are relishing in a rare late-season resurgence. And that's more than enough revenge for their new skipper.

"This is about the Baltimore Orioles," Showalter said, when asked if he took extra satisfaction in beating an organization that dismissed him following the 1995 season. "You take a breather coming up the runway, [and there is] semi satisfaction for the Orioles."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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