"Matusz was doing what we hoped he wouldn't do," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who used just one left-handed hitter in Saturday's starting nine. "[He was] throwing his changeup, keeping it down, mixing speeds, getting us to hit ground balls. And it starts out innocent enough with a walk, and Hermida fires that hit in there, and all of a sudden, we got a chance."
Citing several factors, including Matusz's 102 pitches and the leadoff walk, manager Dave Trembley pulled his starter in favor of reliever Matt Albers.
"He got himself and the team in a position to win the ballgame," Trembley said of Matusz, who has both of the team's wins this season. "Once again, you got to turn it over to your bullpen and get outs."
And for the second consecutive night, that part of the game eluded the Orioles, as their bullpen squandered a lead, allowing the Sox to rally for a six-run inning that proved to be the difference. After striking out pinch-hitter David Ortiz, Albers allowed a three-run shot with one out to Marco Scutaro -- two of the runs being charged to Matusz. Following a double and a walk, Albers was lifted in favor of Kam Mickolio. Kevin Youkilis sent Mickolio's second offering over the left-field wall for another three-run homer, with two of those runs charged to Albers.
"I am even more frustrated with myself for letting the next two guys get on [after Scutaro]," Albers said. "You want to keep it to one run right there and have a chance to win that game."
Albers (0-3) was charged with the blown save and his second consecutive loss, ballooning his ERA to 9.35 in the process.
"It's tough," Albers said of the Orioles' heartbreaking losses, six of which have come by one run. "If we come back there and win that game, it's almost like I can almost forget about that outing, put it behind me and say, 'Who cares?'"
He very nearly got the chance.
Down four runs, the Orioles tried to stage a mini-rally with one out in the ninth, as Adam Jones homered for the second consecutive night and Nick Markakis doubled off reliever Ramon Ramirez. Francona promptly inserted closer Jonathan Papelbon to shut the door, but the O's had other ideas. A trio of singles by Miguel Tejada, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott sent another pair of runs home and put the tying run at second base. Papelbon proceeded to get red-hot Ty Wigginton -- who homered off starter John Lackey -- to chase a pitch outside the zone for the inning's second out, bringing rookie Rhyne Hughes to the plate.
Hughes, who was recalled earlier on Saturday and made his Major League debut at first base, singled on the first pitch he saw from Lackey to score Scott and record his first RBI. He also singled in the fourth and hit a ball to the warning track in the eighth inning before squaring off against Papelbon with the game on the line.
"You are kind of hoping it would be a storybook ending right there for us," Trembley said.
But there have been no fairy tales for the 2-16 Orioles, who are off to the second-worst start in franchise history. Papelbon sent Hughes down swinging to make the possibility of Baltimore's fifth consecutive loss a frustrating reality.
"It would have been nice to find the hole that last at-bat, maybe tie things up, take the lead," Hughes said. "I know wins are tough to come by, but it's good to see us battling through the whole game, not letting up at all. Maybe next time if we get ahead like we were 2-0 [in the second inning], we probably need to score a few more runs, just to kind of put the pressure on them."
The Orioles' struggling offense put up a season-high 17 hits, but struggled to really get Lackey on the ropes. Wieters opened the second inning with a single and was followed by a trio of hits, but Baltimore could only push across two runs. The team went a much-improved 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position, but still stranded 11 runners, including runners on first and third with no outs in the second.
"It was a close game," Jones said. "Something that we should have had."
Instead, the Orioles were left with a familiar feeling, having wasted the second consecutive quality outing from Matusz. The 23-year-old -- an early candidate for American League Rookie of the Year -- yielded his first homer of the season to Jason Varitek, but battled through a solid six-plus-inning performance.
"He was locating everything he threw and really impressed me," Hermida said. "He was as good as we heard he was. You don't see many rookies who can really pitch like that."
Still, Matusz wasn't satisfied, citing the walk to Hall as the one at-bat he would most like to have back.
"It's lingering [in my mind]," Matusz said.
"It hurts right now a little bit. [I] wish I could redo it all over again. But [I'll] forget about it tomorrow and move forward and learn from the mistakes."
And the Orioles will try to do the same.