BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine referenced the "Ghosts of Fenway Park" earlier this season, and after watching Orioles starter Brian Matusz's performance Thursday night, it left little doubt that the 25-year-old lefty is still haunted by old demons in Boston.
Coming off his best start of the season, Matusz had established himself as Baltimore's most consistent starter the past few weeks and had a chance to put any lingering concerns about his ability and place in the rotation permanently to rest.
Instead, Matusz lasted just two-plus innings, his shortest start of the season and worst performance since going 1 2/3 innings Sept. 19, 2011, at Fenway Park. The Orioles were denied a sweep with a 7-0 loss to the Red Sox, and Matusz now has an 11.40 ERA in his last three starts in Boston, an 8 2/3-innings stretch in which he has allowed 13 runs (12 earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks.
The Orioles went 3-6 on their nine-game, three-city road trip, but they return home tied for first place with the Rays atop the American League East.
"I know it is disappointing for him," manager Buck Showalter said of Matusz, who had a stretch of four consecutive quality outings snapped. "It's hopefully a one-game setback. He'll get the ball again and he'll get an opportunity. It'll be a tough four days for him, because he knows he is better than that, but he knows that takes the wind out of our sails early in the game."
Boston starter Clay Buchholz did the rest of the deflating, tossing his third career complete-game shutout -- all three which have come against the Orioles -- in an impressive 125-pitch outing.
"We did a good job of working the counts, but he was just good," said designated hitter Chris Davis, who doubled in the second inning for the team's only extra-base hit in its last 22 innings. "[Buchholz] wasn't giving in. He was putting us away with all three of his pitches, cutting it to lefties a little bit. He looked really good tonight."
After retiring the first batter he faced, Matusz loaded the bases in the first and second innings and allowed a pair of runs in each frame. He needed 58 pitches to record the first four outs, putting the Orioles in a four-run hole.
"I think Brian will be the first to tell you that he created a lot of the problems he had," Showalter said of Matusz's recent struggles in Boston, "and it's real tough to get much tempo in the game or any crispness going. It really does a lot for your offense, too. Stand out on the field there for 30 pitches in an inning and it really puts you on your heels, especially at the end of a nine-game road trip."
The Orioles' had a chance to get out of the second inning with just one run scored, but second baseman Robert Andino airmailed a throw from second base on a double-play attempt that instead allowed Dustin Pedroia to reach second base as another run scored.
Matusz's night ended after allowing a single to Adrian Gonzalez to open the third, and he was charged with five runs (four earned) on four hits and five walks in a 67-pitch outing that featured 33 strikes. It marked just the second time in 12 starts Matusz has failed to go at least five innings.
"It was just everything today," Matusz said of his struggles. "Just out of my rhythm. I couldn't find my rhythm, couldn't find the groove and obviously walks were the problem, and just didn't have good command of anything."
"I don't feel like there was any dramatic problems today in my mechanics. Just a matter of being inconsistent and not finding a good rhythm."
The Orioles, who have been hit hard by injuries and struggled to produce runs, continued its funk against Buchholz despite tagging the righty for 10 runs over his previous nine innings.
Asked what the difference was Thursday night, Buchholz admitted he didn't know.
"They gave it to me the last two times I faced them," he said. "Obviously you face these guys a lot. All of our starters do. It's a matter of going out there and who's going to win that day. After the last start, it was like a chess match sort of. They have a really good lineup or they wouldn't be where they're at right now."
The O's threatened in the fifth, as Mark Reynolds was hit by a pitch, but he was promptly erased when Wilson Betemit grounded into a double play. Ryan Flaherty was also hit by a pitch, but the inning ended when Andino struck out.
The loss cost the O's a chance at history with the potential for their second three-game sweep at Fenway Park in one season, a feat that had never been accomplished, even by the St. Louis Browns, which was what the Orioles were before moving to Baltimore. It also snapped a seven-game win streak in Boston, a modern-day Orioles record that was set with Wednesday's 2-1 victory.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez followed Matusz and fared well in his second Major League appearance, going four innings and allowing a run on two hits and two walks.
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.