When you've lost five games in a row and are trying to avoid losing a sixth in a row, you've got to try something different. Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided one thing he could do differently was to be ejected in the second inning of the game. Home plate umpire Brian Gorman had an absurd strike zone and Showalter went out to let him know about it.
In all likelihood, this ejection had no bearing on how the game played out, but it's one of those things that, in retrospect, feels like it "sent a message." Maybe it even did send a message. Maybe that's a load of nonsense. Either way, without Buck, the Orioles went on to grab a 3-2 victory against the Astros to avoid being swept in the four-game set in Houston. Adam Jones homered for the first time since May 11, a glorious moonshot to break a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning, to finally bring an end to the losing, at least for today.
It was the Orioles who struck first in the game, grabbing a run against Dallas Keuchel in the first inning of the game. Manny Machado legged out an infield single to get the game going. Keuchel then struck out the next two Orioles batters, because obviously. But then he stopped paying attention to Machado and Manny stole second base, putting him in scoring position when Chris Davis hit a line drive over the shifted shortstop's leap. Machado came around to score and the Orioles led, 1-0.
Hammerin' Hank Conger
Nothing lasts forever, especially Orioles leads against this home run-happy Astros lineup. Wei-Yin Chen set Houston down in order in both the first and second inning before allowing a leadoff home run in the third inning to catcher Hank Conger. How do the Orioles manage to give up home runs to guys who are batting .204? It was a majestic home run that tied the game.
In this series it's seemed the Orioles hit a lot of fly balls that would have been home runs anywhere else. The Astros hit a ton of home runs that would have been home runs everywhere. It was gone. There was no doubt. That's how the Astros do you.
It was the Astros who broke the 1-1 tie an inning later. The lumberjack, Evan Gattis, scorched a line drive that deflected off Machado's glove to shortstop. Next, Chris Carter, the Oriole-killer of the series, roped a double into the left field corner. The Astros third base coach was waving Gattis home, but he wisely stopped, because he is not fleet of foot. Better to have second and third with one out than get thrown out at the plate.
The Scorpion and the Frog
There is a fable about a scorpion and a frog. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him over a river. The frog doesn't want to do so because he thinks the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion observes that he couldn't sting the frog because then both the frog and the scorpion would drown. On the way across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. Before they both drown, the frog asks why. The scorpion answers that it is his nature. Then they both die.
I bring this up because Delmon Young in right field is the scorpion and the Orioles are the frog. Never mind that Young actually leads the majors in outfield assists. He's still the scorpion. Luis Valbuena hit a medium-depth fly ball to right field, deep enough that Gattis bluffed to draw the throw.
Young obliged him by unleashing the worst no-bounce throw possible, easily 30 feet up the line and over everyone's head, so Gattis, despite stopping in the basepath, was able to score and give the Astros a 2-1 lead.
You can't even get mad at him. Of course that happens when Young is in the outfield. It's his nature.
Tie game once again
The sixth inning gave the Orioles a chance to get back on the board, and they actually managed to do so. Adam Jones delivered a one-out single. He kept his head about him on the basepath, as when Davis grounded a crappy ball into the infield, Jones avoided the tag and got himself safely to second base instead.
This is one of those key plays that didn't seem to be key at the time. It became key when the struggling Steve Pearce followed with a ground ball that snuck through the hole between third and short, allowing a hustling Jones to round third and safely cross the plate to tie the game up at 2-2.
The bottom of the inning, Chen faced a first-and-third with nobody out situation that he escaped thanks to a key popout and two strikeouts. That's the way you want to do it.
There was more Orioles wizardry in the bottom of the seventh as well. Chen started the inning and once again faced a jam, second and third with nobody out. He got Marwin Gonzalez on a foul popout before being lifted for Darren O'Day. Instead of bringing instant relief, O'Day walked pinch hitter Colby Rasmus, the first batter he faced, to load the bases before escaping the jam.
Chen had himself a nice outing, by the way, giving up only two runs on five hits and two walks in 6.2 innings while striking out nine batters. The Astros never got a hit with runners in scoring position in the game despite having eight tries to do so.
Adam Jones is and forever will be the man
Everyone who pays even cursory attention to Orioles baseball knows how you get out Adam Jones, even the more selective Adam Jones we've seen this year. Astros reliever Chad Qualls is no exception. Knowing and doing are two different things, because if you know and you make a mistake, then Jones will do bad things to the baseball you throw. Qualls left a pitch in Jones' wheelhouse and Jones crushed a towering blast that exited the field at about 105 miles per hour.
The home run, Jones' first since May 11, gave the O's a 3-2 lead with six outs left to get. He is the man. Jones had three hits today and scored two runs.
What you don't want to do after a dramatic late-game home run is walk the first guy you face on four pitches. Unfortunately, that's what O'Day did in the bottom of the inning. He rallied to strike out Carter before being lifted in favor of closer Zach Britton, tasked with getting the first five-out save of his career. Would Buck have made the same choice? Let's not kid ourselves by acting like this choice would have been against Buck's wishes.
Britton shut that business down by getting two strikeouts, although a wild pitch did allow the runner, Gattis, to move into scoring position. That didn't matter. In the ninth, Britton sent them down without any drama, helped in doing so when Rasmus, the game's final batter, decided he would try to bunt his way on with two outs and bunted the ball directly down the first base line to a waiting Pearce, who stepped on the bag to end the game.
The Orioles were finally in the win column again. Britton grabbed his 14th save of the year.
Next up for the O's is a trip to Cleveland. Chris Tillman and Shaun Marcum are the scheduled starters for the 7:10 series opener on Friday.