BALTIMORE-- Orioles starter Brian Matusz was struggling, there was no doubt about it. But when he toed the rubber to start the sixth inning, Baltimore was still very much in the game, down only 3-1 despite the Angels' 11 hits.
Eight pitches later, Peter Bourjos was trotting around the bases celebrating his third home run of the season while Matusz was walking off. The two-run homer -- the Angels' second of four long balls -- erased any chance of Matusz righting the ship Tuesday night, as the 25-year-old surrendered a career-high 13 hits, while Baltimore continued to search for any hits with runners in scoring position, an ugly combination that resulted in a 7-3 series-opening loss.
"I was fighting all the way through to stay in that game, and that was a killer," said Matusz, who suffered his fourth consecutive loss and has an 8.31 ERA over that stretch.
"It was a 3-2 changeup that I just tried to throw over the plate and it ended up being up and out over the plate and Peter hit it out. That was tough."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was optimistic Matusz, who ditched his breaking stuff early in favor of the fastball to try to battle through, could gut it out for a few more batters. With Matusz at 74 pitches to start the inning and the team facing a long stretch of 13 games in 13 days starting Tuesday without an off-day, the hope was to "stretch it out as long as possible" with Matusz on the hill.
"Bottom line is guys are judged on runs given up," Showalter said. "I thought he deserved the opportunity."
Instead, that opportunity sailed into the left-field stands, marking the second home run surrendered by Matusz, who turned the ball over to reliever Tommy Hunter without recording an out in the sixth. Since his two-hitter against the Rays on June 2 -- in which Matusz gave up one run and lasted 7 1/3 innings -- he has allowed 33 hits and 10 walks against 10 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.
"It's been just a couple pitches here and there each game," Matusz said of his recent struggles, which put him at 5-9 with a 5.24 ERA. "It's just being able to eliminate the mistakes and get back on track."
The offense did little to help Matusz's woes, as the Orioles mustered up one hit with runners in scoring position in seven tries -- Steve Pearce's bases-loaded sixth-inning single -- to put them at 2-for-40 with RISP and 43 left on base over their last eight games. The Orioles left eight runners on base, squandering several key opportunities to get to Angels starter C.J. Wilson.
Pearce put the Orioles on the board with a solo homer to start the fifth inning, and Steve Tolleson singled and stole second, with No. 9 batter Robert Andino working a walk. After leadoff man Brian Roberts' sacrifice bunt, J.J. Hardy lined out to shortstop and Adam Jones grounded out. The O's also left the bases loaded in the sixth, with Tolleson flying out to shallow center and Andino grounding out to keep Wilson cruising through seven innings.
"No one's making excuses in there, we're just frustrated that we're not getting it done," Jones said of an Orioles team that has scored three or fewer runs in nine of 10 games, with 14 extra-base hits and a .096 batting average with runners in scoring position over that stretch.
"It's the ups and downs of baseball," said Pearce, who went 2-for-4 and was a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster Oriole lineup. "You've got to try to stay on an even keel."
But, as Showalter reiterated again on Tuesday, it's human nature to press. And the Orioles, missing Nick Markakis -- and with Nolan Reimold out for the season -- are getting some hollow numbers from some of their more dependable starters. Save for Wilson Betemit, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth, and Jones, the team's everyday players are all struggling in some aspect. Hardy is 3-for-40, Chris Davis -- who was held out of the last two games -- is marred in a 0-for-29 stretch and Mark Reynolds, who led the team in homers and RBIs last year, went 0-for-4 and has just six homers on the year.
"It's like the chicken or the egg," Showalter said of the alarming rate his team is stranding runners. "We've got people out there. We did some good things to get them out there. Usually, guys that have the track record that Wilson has, there's a reason why they're able to make some pitches. It's frustrating. We hit a couple balls right on the button in key situations.
The whole idea about hitting, you keep hitting the ball firmly and they're not going to have as much time to react. But obviously there was a lot less of that than we needed."
Seemingly all of the Angels' hard hits found holes, as Matusz allowed at least two hits in every inning but an eight-pitch first. Hunter allowed a leadoff homer to Mark Trumbo, which went 448 feet, in the seventh, while reliever Kevin Gregg gave up a solo homer to John Hester in the eighth. Hester, a former Orioles prospect, collected a career-high three hits as a red-hot Angels team improved to 12-1 in its last 13 road contests.
"Chemistry is really hard to diagnose sometimes," Wilson said. "We had a long home stand, we were home for a while, and we had some good momentum."
The Orioles will look to Wednesday to try to regain their momentum, as Tuesday's loss drops them back four games of the New York Yankees in the American League East race and marks their fifth defeat in seven games.
"We're looking at it in a positive light," Jones said. "We've left some guys on base, we had the opportunity to score more runs, and we didn't. But we had the opportunity. We have to bear down, get in scoring position and get that hit. It's not easy."
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.