The trade was a disaster. Couldn't the Orioles get L.J. Hoes back? Why did they trade for this scrub? These were the thoughts as Bud Norris allowed a pair of solo home runs to left-handed batters over the first four innings of the game. Meanwhile, the Orioles were shut out through four innings by Astros starter Jordan Lyles. That could not hold for long. In the fifth, they finally broke out against Lyles and Norris suddenly looked a whole lot better. They picked up three runs on the way to a 6-3 victory to record the series victory against the lowly Houston team that hammered them the night before.
For the first time in eight games, the O's managed to get ten or more hits. That is a good way to lose some games against teams you should be beating. The first nine of those hits, and all of them allowed by Lyles, were singles, and they could not get much going until the fifth. Indeed, through four innings they had only three hits and no walks, and it looked like another night of frustrating futility.
Then, the fifth inning happened. Cuban sensation Henry Urrutia, tonight's designated hitter, grounded a ball down the third base line for a single. He was nearly erased on a would-be double play ball by Brian Roberts, but Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar muffed the ball and Urrutia motored to third. That turned the lineup over, with Nate McLouth and Manny Machado each adding RBI singles. It was a Jake Arrieta kind of inning for Lyles: the meltdown after a teammate's mistake.
When Nick Markakis added an RBI sacrifice fly, it was 3-2 Orioles and the damage had been done.
Lyles created his own kind of mess in the sixth inning when he allowed a two-out rally to the bottom of the lineup. J.J. Hardy opened things up with a single to left. Urrutia added a soft liner past the second baseman into center field and Roberts lined a single of his own into left field, which scored Hardy. It was a good night for the Orioles going first-to-third, with two runs coming from heads-up baserunning of that sort.
That chased Lyles, who ended up his night with 5.2 innings pitched, nine hits, five runs, three earned, with five strikeouts. McLouth tagged him with another run when reliever Travis Blackley gave up a single that scored Urrutia.
Meanwhile, there was Norris, the high-profile trade acquisition, making his Orioles debut when he had been terrible both away from Houston and on 6+ days of rest - he rested seven going into tonight. He quickly revealed his challenge in getting out lefties when he gave up a home run to .218 hitter Brett Wallace, the kind of fat pitch that you could have hit for a homer if you stood there and closed your eyes and swung.
Right fielder Marc Krauss, a .200 hitter, added another such home run in the fourth inning, which left the Orioles trailing 2-0 at that point. Norris looked worse because of the O's failure against Lyles, but that turned around, and Norris pitched his way to a quality start in which he only ended up allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks in six innings.
That is a WHIP of 1, and there is no doubt we would take that from any end of the Orioles rotation every night of the week and be happy about that. The two home runs were troublesome, especially given that Norris will face tougher lefties in the AL East, but he otherwise kept runners from scoring position and managed to strike out eight hitters, a new season high.
The strikeouts are not all that impressive when you consider that the Astros have struck out over 1,000 times this season, which leads the major leagues by over 70 over the second-place team. The Orioles have 748 strikeouts as hitters this season, which you may be surprised to know is only 23rd in MLB.
No more insurance was ultimately necessary, but Chris Davis provided some when he added to Baltimore's homicide total by murdering a baseball in the bottom of the seventh inning. Blackley missed and Davis crushed the pitch to right field. It was the kind of strong pull swing you'd expect from a power hitter like Davis. The home run was his 39th of the year, giving him his 100th RBI of the year.
That is the 39th such season (100 or more RBI) by an Orioles player in history, with the last being Markakis in 2009. This statistic stunned me because it's hard to remember Markakis hitting well enough to have 100 RBI. He has done so twice in his career, also in 2007.
Davis' home run was the only extra-base hit the O's would get on the night. Sometimes, that's all you need.
Jim Johnson came on for the ninth inning and he was very Jim Johnson. A walk to Wallace was followed by Krauss being hit by a pitch - though he shook his hand and I never saw him hit there - brought the tying run to the plate with one out. Johnson flubbed what could have been a game-ending double play ball, but he recovered enough to at least get Jimmy Paredes at first base.
Matt Dominguez, who has 14 home runs on the season, stepped up to the plate with two outs, and visions of disaster may have danced through your heads. The disaster was not to be tonight: Dominguez grounded a ball to Machado, who fired to first to end the game and give Johnson his 37th save. He now has more saves than the Astros have wins.
Norris earned the win to raise his record to 7-9, 1-0 as an Oriole. Lyles took the loss to drop to 4-5.
Hoes recorded his first major league hit in the game, a line-drive single into left field. He still got a cool career moment in the ballpark of the favorite team of his youth even though he was traded to another team.
McLouth, Machado, Davis, and Urrutia all had multi-hit games for the O's. Every starter had a hit except for Matt Wieters, whose OBP is back under .300, and Markakis, now slugging .385 - 66th in the AL among qualified hitters.
The Orioles will welcome Seattle, a complete failure of a baseball team, who allowed six runs in the bottom of the ninth to blow a game in Boston Thursday night, to Baltimore for a three-game weekend series. They will avoid Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Chris Tillman will face off against Aaron Harang in the 7:05 opening game on Friday night.