One of the ongoing themes of the 2014 season has been Orioles starters failing to go deep into a game. Wei-Yin Chen flipped the script on Friday night, turning in a strong seven innings, sparing the bullpen a heavy workload while helping the team towards a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros. The win was the Orioles' fourth in a row and ensures that they will remain in sole possession of first place in the American League East for another night.
Chen may have only been facing the woeful-hitting Astros, but a major league lineup is a major league lineup. He sent them down quickly early in the game, going against the Orioles starter trend of 17+ pitch innings. Though the Astros struck first in the game, he kept them from having a big inning. Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez led off the third inning with a double, advancing to third on a Carlos Corporan groundout. That put him in a place to score on a sacrifice fly by local hero and former Oriole L.J. Hoes.
Following the sacrifice fly, Jose Altuve reached on a single, but was thrown out trying to steal second, ending the inning. You don't run on Steve Clevenger. He will unseam you from the nave to the chops and fix your head upon the battlements.
The Orioles struck back in the bottom of the inning. Steve Pearce does not want to get designated for assignment again, so he's just going to keep homering until the Orioles decide they need to keep him. The return of Chris Davis seems to now be imminent. Pearce is stating his case. His solo home run led off the inning and tied the game at 1.
It wouldn't stay tied for long. Before the inning was over, Manny Machado added a home run of his own, his first of the season. It's the first well-struck ball he's seemed to have all season. This put the Orioles ahead 2-1.
In six innings, these were the only real mistakes made by Astros starter Scott Feldman in his first start back from the disabled list. He only allowed five hits in six innings, walking none and striking out six. Unfortunately for him, two of the hits were home runs. There were a lot of ground balls right at fielders. That's how the Astros try to draw it up now and Feldman executed his part of the plan tonight. If it weren't for the Astros being cautious with his pitch count for his return, he probably could have pitched longer. He'd only thrown 88 when he was removed.
Chen cruised along with a great night of his own. He was through six innings with 89 pitches thrown and he never looked to be slowing down as he sometimes does the second and third time through the order. However, he did make one mistake to designated hitter Chris Carter, who mashed a solo home run, his fifth shot of the season, to knot the score at 2.
On the night, he pitched the seven innings with five hits, two runs allowed, one walk and four strikeouts. That will play. The outing brought his season ERA down to 3.95.
With the score tied 2-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh, the Astros summoned longtime Orioles nemesis Jerome "Jeremy" Williams from the bullpen. Williams has seemed to be kryptonite for the O's for several years ever since a 2011 start he made for the Angels where he shut them down for no reason.
Whatever power he may have had in the past failed him on Friday night. J.J. Hardy led off the seventh with a ground rule double. He moved over to third on a slow roller by Clevenger. A man on third with one out is a prime opportunity for the Orioles to fail to do anything productive. Pearce grounded right to the third baseman. Hardy could not score. Schoop came up next and he delivered a sharp single up the middle to easily score Hardy.
The O's added their fourth and final run when Nick Markakis hit a double into the right-center gap, easily scoring Schoop, who was running on contact with two outs, from first base.
That fourth run proved crucial in the ninth inning when Tommy Hunter turned in an outing in true Johnsonian "Hold on to your butts" fashion. Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler poked a double down the left field line, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Marc Krauss, who is left-handed and therefore death to Hunter. The O's closer walked Krauss and Fowler stole third base in the process. OK, maybe sometimes you do run on Clevenger.
Carter, who'd already homered, came to the plate representing the go-ahead run with nobody out. Hunter induced a double play out of Carter, 6-4-3, scoring Fowler but clearing the bases with two men out. Phenom prospect George Springer stepped up looking to do some damage. He struck out, giving the Orioles their fourth straight victory, a feat they only managed three times all of last season.
Hunter's save was his AL-leading 11th of the year. Chen was awarded the win, raising his record to 4-2. Williams took the loss for the Astros, falling to 1-2.
The MASN team deemed Markakis worthy of a post-game interview. Because he's a fuddy-duddy, Orioles players did not bring him the now-customery Dangerously Delicious pie to the face, nor did they even offer him a sample, as they did the last time. Instead, they just pied some random guy standing around in a grey polo shirt. Who was that guy? We may never know, but he got a pie to the face all the same, sharing in the fruits of the night's victory. We should all be so fortunate.
The O's will be in search of a fifth-straight victory on Saturday night as they continue this series against the Astros. Miguel Gonzalez starts the 7:05 game for the O's, with rookie Collin McHugh starting for the Astros.