Perhaps no one symbolizes the state of the Orioles better than Matusz, the 25-year-old left-hander who arrived in Baltimore in 2009 as a former No. 4 overall draft pick and one of the brightest pitching prospects in baseball, a status he cemented with an impressive 2010 (10-12, 4.30 ERA).
But in 2011, just as the Showalter-led Orioles crashed after a 6-1 start, Matusz (after beginning the year on the disabled list) won his first decision of the year in June — and never won again. He went 1-9 for the year — interrupted by a demotion to the minors — and posted an ERA, 10.69, that ranks as the worst in history for any pitcher with at least 10 starts.
“No one wants to fail like that. We’re competitors. It sucks,” Matusz said. “But the only choice you have is to learn from it and try to get better.”
“Keep in mind,” said Showalter, “that a lot of these guys — they were the best pitcher in Little League. They were the best pitcher in junior high, in summer league, in high school, in college, in A-ball, in Double-A and Triple-A. Then all of a sudden, the first time they get their nose bloodied and somebody turns around a 93-mile-per-hour fastball like it’s a [batting-practice] fastball, it’s like, ‘Holy [expletive].
“It’s the first time [Matusz] has had any failure. It’ll make you stronger, if you understand why it happened, and what has to happen next. I love the way he’s responded to it.”
Just as Showalter is no longer viewed in Baltimore as a miracle worker, capable of turning around the Orioles by sheer force of will, no longer is Matusz expected to be an ace.
Around Camden Yards, it’s still okay to dream, but if it’s winning teams you want, you’re better off looking deep into the past, or deep into the future, than deep into the present.