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Orioles rally to hold off Rays, deny sweep

Orioles rally to hold off Rays, deny sweep

ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't pretty, but the Orioles' sweep-avoiding, 5-4 win over the Rays on Thursday night made the flight home to Baltimore a little bit lighter.

"When you go out there and something happens, they come back, that's just devastating for the ballclub," said closer Mike Gonzalez, who loaded the bases with two outs before nailing down his first save of the season. "Now we're pumped up. One thing is for sure, we are going to be in a lot of these games. This season's going to be a lot of excitement."

Gonzalez -- who was charged with a blown save in Tuesday's loss -- provided plenty of that in the ninth inning on Thursday. With the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead and three outs to go, Gonzalez struck out the first two batters he faced before issuing a pair of walks, with Jason Bartlett's single sandwiched between. Manager Dave Trembley watched the go-ahead run standing on second, prepared to insert sidearmer Cla Meredith if Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist reached base.

But Gonzalez didn't let it get that far, getting Zobrist to fly out, securing the save and preserving the "W" for rookie starter Brian Matusz, who gutted out a solid five innings in his 2010 debut.

"From what I understand, and the people I've talked to, more times than not, he's going to keep you on the edge of your seat," Trembley said of Gonzalez. "It's not always pretty, but he gets it done."

The same could be said of Matusz, who faltered early -- walking a career-high five batters in the first 3 1/3 innings -- but persevered to turn in five innings of two-run baseball, with seven strikeouts, en route to Baltimore's first win of 2010.

"[Matusz] has poise," Trembley said. "That's it in a nutshell. I'm real happy for him and the team. He said before he pitched that they weren't going to beat him, and he didn't let it happen. He could have caved in. [He had] way too many three-ball counts, [that's] uncharacteristic of him. ... He showed what he's made of."

The 23-year-old Matusz admitted that he was a little amped up, and as a result, was over-striding to the plate. After two scoreless innings, he opened the third with three consecutive walks to the bottom of the Rays' lineup, which put Trembley's foot on the top step of the dugout and on the verge of replacing his young right-hander.

"I can't remember the last time I ever walked that many guys in a ballgame," said Matusz, who issued just three walks in 24 1/3 spring innings.

With his back against the wall, Matusz hunkered down and allowed just two runs to come out of the bases-loaded jam, retiring the Rays' middle-of-the-order guys, Zobrist and Evan Longoria.

"He can make adjustments from hitter to hitter, and a lot of young guys aren't able to do that," Trembley said. "Once the wheels start coming off the wagon, the game gets out of control, and it spins out of control in a hurry. In this place tonight, they have 10,000 cowbells ringing, the lights are flashing on and off. It's a circus, and he contained it."

And he was better for it. Matusz emerged stronger in his final two frames, striking out four of the final five batters he faced before handing the ball to reliever Matt Albers.

"In that fifth inning is when I made it simple and really got into a groove," Matusz said. "And it's nice to go out on a good note."

The Orioles' offense made sure the note remained high, piecing together a four-run sixth inning that would prove to be the difference-maker.

Nick Markakis opened the inning with a single, and a hit-by-pitch and walk later, the Orioles loaded the bases for catcher Matt Wieters. The Rays countered with right-hander Grant Balfour, but Wieters won the matchup, delivering an RBI single to center to tie the score at 2. A wild pitch scored Miguel Tejada, and Garrett Atkins added a two-run single down the right-field line for his third consecutive game with an extra-base hit.

Nolan Reimold blasted a third-inning homer off reliever Andy Sonnanstine for the game's first run. Rays starter Jeff Niemann exited in the second after Tejada hit a ball up the middle that caught the right-hander square on the back of the shoulder. The ball then ricocheted to Carlos Pena at first for the unusual 1-3 putout.

"We played three really close games here," Trembley said. "We played hard. We finally got something to go our way [on Thursday]. We hung in there, we got a big hit from Atkins [and] we played very good in the field. ... That's all you can do."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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