One of the things that makes baseball fun is that you never know what will happen in any given game. A series of numbers and charts will tell you tendencies, which are good things to know. Still, sometimes you will see something you never expected to see.
David Lough, the Orioles outfielder who's struggled at the plate this season, provided one of those unexpected outcomes. His second inning home run with Jonathan Schoop on base staked the Orioles to a 2-0 lead and was the first of the day's offensive contributions from players you would not expect. It was enough to power the O's to a 9-4 win over the Astros on Sunday afternoon, managing a split in the four-game series after all.
All of the Orioles scoring came against former Oriole Scott Feldman, who took it on the chin today. The O's were on base frequently. Feldman never had a 1-2-3 inning on the afternoon. Over 5.1 innings, he allowed nine runs on 11 hits. He also hit two batters. One of these looked like it could be serious. Nelson Cruz was hit on the hand in the third inning. He remained in the game long enough to run the bases, and even stole second, but was removed for Delmon Young after that.
The Orioles sent him for some x-rays, which were reported to come back negative. Cruz is listed as day-to-day with a left hand contusion. Hopefully the off day is enough for him to be ready to go again. He will probably want to show something to his former team, with the O's traveling to Texas to play the Rangers.
They took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning, which was when they did most of their damage to Feldman. They hit four straight singles, starting with an accidental shift-beater from Chris Davis. Lough hit the fourth of these, adding another RBI to his total for the day. Nick Hundley tacked on another run with a sacrifice fly to right field. The ball was diving away from Astros right fielder George Springer, but he had the range to haul it in. Against some other right fielders it could have easily been a bases-clearing double.
All runners advanced on the sacrifice fly, bringing up designated hitter Nick Markakis with men on second and third and only one out. The Astros intentionally walked him. On an abstract level, there is some kernel of sense in the idea of setting up a force at any base to cut off a run at the plate. In the real world, this involved loading the bases by walking a powerless hitter, already down four runs.
Maybe the Astros were very confident in their game plan for getting out Manny Machado. If so, that confidence was misguided in a big way. Whatever Feldman meant to do, he left a pitch in the wheelhouse. Machado did not miss. He crushed a ball that may not have yet landed. In left center field in Minute Maid Park, there is a scoreboard, over which is a home run. There are a number of rows of seats. Above those seats is a high wall on which sits some kind of weird train, because Texas. Machado's home run cleared the second wall, and possibly the train.
That was a grand slam, the first of Machado's career. This was the kind of swing we've been waiting to see from him all season. He's looked lost out there, in need of a life preserver. If this home run is a sign that his bat is waking up, that's a good sign for the team. That's a big if. Anyone can have one good game. But if he does build on the success, we'll point to that grand slam as where it started.
This was a theme of the day for the Orioles. Lough and Schoop are also hitters who have struggled mightily this season. Lough had two hits, including the homer. Schoop had three singles on the day. All of these are good things. Their batting lines are all still terrible for the year after this hot day. Maybe it means they will heat up, though, or so we can tell ourselves.
In the midst of all of this scoring, Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen turned in an outing very typical of him. Despite being staked to such a lead, he could not clear the sixth inning. He threw 97 pitches in 5.1 innings, allowing only one run on four hits and a walk while striking out six. At a couple of different points, his defense cost him an out, with Lough misplaying a ball in left and Machado slipping in the dirt while fielding a grounder. You would have liked to see him finish six. He could have, if those plays were made.
Instead, Showalter pulled him. This was probably the right decision, as not overworking Chen is an important goal as well.
The Orioles did not get a banner day from the bullpen. Fortunately, with an eight run lead, they didn't need one. Brad Brach allowed a run in 1.2 innings, while Preston Guilmet pitched an inning and gave up a two-run home run to Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez. Maybe that's why he was available for the low, low price of Torsten Boss.
Still, on a day where the offense gets nine runs, the bullpen doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough to hang in there and spare the relievers who matter. That is what they did, despite giving up three runs. Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless ninth to finish off the game. Nobody cared.
After a Monday off day, the Orioles will be in Texas to take on the Rangers for a three-game series. Texas, like the Orioles, sits a disappointing one game over .500, third place in their division. They will face off against another former Oriole, Joe Saunders, in the series opener. Bud Norris starts the 8:05 game for the O's.