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Orioles 3, Astros 1: J.J. Hardy's 4-4, Miguel Gonzalez quality start let O's escape with series win

Bob Levey

Any series where you win two out of three on the road is a good series. It doesn't matter if you are playing the best team in the league or the worst. A day after an embarrassing performance by the pitching staff, the Orioles took on the most solid Houston starter, took advantage of mistakes when they were made, and they snuck out of town with a 3-1 win in the final game of the series.

From the first inning, the game had the look of one of "those" games. Nate McLouth led off the game with a bunt single, only he was called out by first base umpire Jerry Meals. Astros starter Bud Norris then struck out the next two batters. Norris is not a player who has gotten a lot of strikeouts this year, but this is still the Orioles we're talking about.

Adding to that "those" games feeling, Houston got men on first and third with only one out in the bottom of the first inning. J.D. Martinez drove in Brandon Barnes, who led off with a single, on a sacrifice fly to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. You could see this unfolding: a flat, lifeless effort in the final game of a series, a disappointing series loss against one of the worst teams in the league. The feeling only got stronger after a Matt Wieters single and J.J. Hardy double in the second inning put runners on second and third with one out, with Norris recording another pair of strikeouts to end the threat.

As with so many games of this year and last, it all looked bad until it suddenly looked so good. Today's inning for the Orioles was the fourth inning. Chris Davis opened up with a single and scored when Adam Jones doubled. There's your speed hierarchy: Davis can score from first on a double and Wieters can't. (Yes, I know not all doubles are created equal.) That tied up the game at 1-1.

Speaking of Wieters, he moved Jones to third on a groundout, the kind of ball we're getting all-too-accustomed to seeing from him. He scored easily on a Hardy single. Hardy was erased on a Chris Dickerson fielder's choice. The fielder's choice part isn't so good, but once Dickerson got on base, he showed why he's on this team: he went first-to-third on an infield single. The ball ricocheted off the heel of the third baseman and bounced in the opposite direction as his backup.

The alert Dickerson wheeled to third. He saved Ryan Flaherty from a rundown by breaking for home, making it back to third safely and allowing Flaherty to "steal" second. Dickerson was rewarded for his effort - and rewarded the team by his effort - when Norris uncorked a wild pitch that bounced all the way towards the Orioles dugout. That was the third run of the day for the Orioles, and the last run that either team would score.

Though the Astros teed off on Freddy Garcia yesterday and struck first today, Miguel Gonzalez settled down to put in a solid six innings, allowing only six baserunners (five hits, one walk) as he struck out seven Astros. He was lifted after six innings with 95 pitches, and probably could have pitched part of the seventh. With two outs in the sixth, Martinez reached on an infield single that bounced of Gonzalez's forearm on the way to second base. He may have been removed just as a precaution.

Norris came close to being Gonzalez's equal today, going seven innings but giving up the three runs. He allowed nine hits, with enough bunched up in the third inning - plus bad luck and/or defensive miscues - to allow the runs to score. Three runs in seven innings will be good for the win on most days, but not this day. Sorry, Bud. I'm not really sorry.

With Gonzalez going six, that left three innings for the bullpen. Luckily for the Orioles, it was the good relievers' turn to get some work: Darren O'Day let only one batter reach and recorded two strikeouts in 1.2 IP. Brian Matusz struck out Jason Castro to end the eighth inning. That lefty-lefty matchup is a powerful thing.

Jim Johnson pitched the ninth inning. We had to hold on to our butts briefly. A Flaherty throwing error - he pulled Davis off the bag with a throw on a tough play - put the tying run up to the plate with only one out. Johnson proceeded to hit Chris Carter with a pitch. That would be the Carter who is batting .218/.302/.431. Well, mistakes happen. The winning run then stepped up to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Carlos Corporan. You held your breath, but to Johnson it was no big deal: he induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the game. No fuss, no muss. The save was Johnson's 20th.

Gonzalez picked up the arbitrary win designation - and deserved it on this occasion - to raise his record to 3-2 on the year. Norris took the tough quality start loss, dropping his record to 5-5.

Hardy had himself a 4-4 game to raise himself above the Izturis Line (.300 OBP). If he's able to maintain the level he reached today - .266/.304/.485 - I'll soon stop complaining about his bat. We wish he'd get on base more, but if he's going to hit for that kind of power, it'll play.

Though the Orioles had 11 hits, Davis was the only other Oriole with a multi-hit game. His 2-5 included a pair of singles, meaning that while his batting average rose, his on-base percentage and slugging percentage went down. He trails only Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers for average in all of MLB and is out-slugging Cabrera by nearly 80 points.

Next up for the Orioles is a trip to Tampa Bay. They'll kick off a three-game series on Friday night at 7:10, with Jason Hammel looking to hit the mark against Chris Archer.