Dallas Keuchel's unblemished 2015 record came to Baltimore on a humid Memorial Day afternoon and died. There were 28,909 witnesses. The cause of death was an acute case of Orioles Magic brought on by complicating factors arising from a couple of freakin' awesome home runs. The time of death was approximately 4pm. It is survived by the unbeaten streaks of Nick Martinez, Michael Wacha, and James Shields.
This was not a game that, if you look at the line score, the Orioles would appear to have deserved to win. Yet as the diverse pair of gunslingers, Will Munny and Snoop Pearson, are quick to remind us, deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
It is a strange game indeed where the winning team does not leave a single man on base. It is also a strange game where the winning team never has even a single plate appearance with men in scoring position. That is the precise caper that the Orioles pulled off on Monday. Every Orioles batter who reached first base either scored on a home run or was erased before reaching second base.
None of that sounds like part of the recipe for an Orioles victory. None of it looked like it was a formula for an Orioles victory from the stands at Camden Yards either. Of the two pitchers who took the mound at the start of the game on Monday, Wei-Yin Chen and Keuchel, there was little doubt that Keuchel spent most of the game looking like the better one. Given that Keuchel only allowed seven Orioles to safely reach base while tossing a complete game , the fact that the Orioles managed to win the game is something of a mystery, probably not least to Keuchel himself.
Keuchel faced the minimum of three batters in six of the eight innings he pitched. When the game ended, he had yet to throw his 100th pitch. At one point, he retired 11 Orioles in a row.
Meanwhile, Chen was pitching with men on base constantly. Over a mere five innings of work, Chen gave up 11 hits. I thought that Chen suffered unfortunate BABIP luck on a number of the hits he gave up, but that cumulative number does not lie, and a start made so short by allowing so many runners doesn't lie either. Chen threw 91 pitches in five innings. That is a bad day. Astros batters went 11-for-25 against Chen on the day - a .440 average. Yikes.
When Chen departed from the contest, he was trailing by a score of 3-2. That damage - which, to his credit, he kept to a minimum despite all the runners he allowed - came over two innings. George Springer led off the third inning with his seventh home run of the season. It was one of three hits against Chen that Springer had on the day.
In the fifth inning, Chen's last, Springer led off with another single. Second baseman Jose Altuve delivered another single. Chen got outs from the next two batters, including a clutch strikeout of Evan Gattis, but then he gave up a little doink shot off the bat of Chris Carter that ended up going out to right field. The problem is that, with Carter being a strong right-handed batter, there was essentially no one in right field, and the closest fielder was right fielder Delmon Young.
With two outs and the runners going on contact, Luis Valbuena came all the way around from first base to score on what was actually a single. How do you score from first base on a single? Down that path lies madness. Young did not make a good throw home. That put the Orioles down by a run.
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Lest you be left with the impression that Young was nothing but a goat today, consider that he scored two of the Orioles runs and had two of the Orioles' six hits. Young was on base after singling in the second inning, which meant that he was standing there when Caleb Joseph, facing the sudden and terrible realization that his kid needs to eat, smoked a line drive that just kept on going and eventually cleared the left field fence.
The ball only just cleared the fence, which won't be good for the most impressive home run of the year, but it was good for Joseph's fourth home run of the year and, even more importantly, two Orioles runs.
Another Young single came in the bottom of the seventh inning. The next batter after Young was Steve Pearce. Perhaps Keuchel thought he was safe; what kind of idiot team bats a .192 hitter in the #5 spot? The Astros #5 hitter, incidentally, was Carter, who finished the day batting .172. But Keuchel never has to face them. Maybe he thought he had this whole pitching to Pearce thing well under control.
Then Keuchel made a pitch to Pearce and Pearce took a mighty cut and the ball soared high up into the air and it just kept on soaring. Houston center fielder Jake Marisnick chased the ball all the way to the wall and leaped in vain. That ball was gone. The Orioles were ahead, 4-3, on Pearce's fifth home run of the year.
O's starter Chen never had much of an answer for Astros hitters. Astros hitters never had much of an answer for the Orioles bullpen. Three O's relievers combined to set down 12 Astros in a row after they took over the game: Brad Brach, who pitched two innings, as well as Oliver Drake and closer Zach Britton, who notched his 11th save of the year.
Brach gets the win for being on the mound at the right time and is now 2-0. Keuchel, who came into the day with a 1.67 ERA and leaves it with a 1.99 ERA, took his first loss of 2015, now 6-1 on the year.
The Orioles could end the day as close as two games back of first place in the American League East.
These two teams will be back in action for a scheduled 7:05 first pitch on Tuesday night. The expected starting pitchers are Chris Tillman for the O's, with former Oriole Scott Feldman going for Houston.
Other game notes
- The game was briefly interrupted at 3pm Eastern, as were all active MLB games, to participate in a National Moment of Remembrance for Memorial Day.
- J.J. Hardy left the game after the bottom of the seventh inning due to back tightness.
- O's prospect Dylan Bundy was scratched from a Tuesday start with Bowie due to suspected shoulder tendinitis.