BALTIMORE -- For a night, the Orioles stepped back into 2010 -- and that was a good thing.
Left-hander Brian Matusz turned in his best start of the year and No. 8 batter Steve Tolleson hit his first homer since Sept. 26, 2010, to help the Orioles capture a 4-1 series-evening win over the Red Sox on Tuesday night.
Baltimore, owners of the best record in the American League, is now 4-1 against Boston this season and maintained a two-game lead over Tampa Bay in the American League East.
If the O's are going to continue crashing the party in baseball's toughest division, they will need more -- much more -- of this Matusz, who went 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts last season. The 25-year-old allowed just three baserunners -- the fewest in a non-injury shortened start in his career -- and exited after striking out Adrian Gonzalez to start the seventh inning to a rousing ovation from the crowd of 25,171 at Camden Yards.
"I had chills going through my body," Matusz, winner of four of his last five starts after snapping a 12-game losing streak, said of the crowd's overwhelming support.
"I'm getting my confidence back. I'm going out there and having a game plan, being able to attack the zone. Like I've said, I forgot all about last year. I look at that just as a fluke. For me, it's about being able to keep getting better each time out. I haven't forgotten what it feels like to lose, so these wins are special."
Special, in fact, was the word Tolleson used to describe Matusz, who matched his season high in going 6 1/3 innings and held the Red Sox to two hits and a walk in tying a career-high nine strikeouts.
"It seemed like every time he needed to make a big pitch, he made it," said Tolleson, who staked Matusz to a two-run lead with a second-inning homer off Red Sox starter Felix Doubront.
While Doubront put on a pretty impressive performance of his own -- striking out nine and allowing only Tolleson's homer -- the night belonged to Matusz, who threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 22 batters, using an array of filthy offspeed pitches to keep Boston's bats at bay.
"I've never seen him pitch like that," Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles said of Matusz. "He definitely had all his stuff working tonight. He kept us off-balance and threw strikes. Fastball, slider, curveball and change, and he commanded all of them."
Added catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia: "He's definitely a lot different. [He was] a little quicker. Every pitch he had was on tonight."
The Orioles used their go-to method for scoring runs this season to capture Tuesday's victory. While Tolleson was the recipient of a postgame shaving cream pie to the face, Wilson Betemit gave them some much-needed breathing room with a two-out two-run homer in the eighth off ex-Oriole Matt Albers. Baltimore extended its big league lead with 67 homers and also leads the Majors with 28 of those coming in the seventh inning or later.
"Every night is someone different," Tolleson said of the lineup's rotating heroes. "[Adam] Jones is throwing the knockout punches with the shaving cream to somebody different every night it seems like. I mean, it's a lot of fun to be in this clubhouse right now."
And no one was grinning more than Matusz, who improved to 4-4 on the season and has strung together a solid stretch over the last few weeks that lends hope for the organization. A former first-round Draft pick, Matusz went 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA over his final eight starts in 2010. Tuesday night's performance didn't have manager Buck Showalter ordaining him as the club's savior, but it did reinforce the growing optimism that Matusz can help anchor a rotation that has already exceeded expectations this season.
"I'm not going to say any young pitcher [has] figured it all out at this stage, at the quarter mark of the season," Showalter said. "It's a good team that's on top of their game offensively, and to have that type of outing in a much-needed situation is impressive. Hopefully he can carry it over and be the consistent guy that he's capable of being."
"He's not having to just throw fastballs in fastball counts," catcher Matt Wieters said of the difference in Matusz's game plan. "He's able to throw his breaking ball when he wants to as well as the slider. It's allowing him to get back in the counts and even put guys away when he gets there."
Matusz was followed by reliever Darren O'Day, who picked up a pair of strikeouts to end the seventh. Pedro Strop followed in the eighth, pitching around a one-out walk to Daniel Nava and retiring Mike Aviles on a nice play by second baseman Robert Andino to keep the lead intact.
Closer Jim Johnson picked up his 16th save of the save of the season and has converted his last 24 save opportunities dating back to last season.
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.