If you watched the first inning of Friday night’s game against Gerrit Cole, you would have thought the Orioles had the upper hand against the Astros’ righty. But that was not the case. After an uneven beginning that included an error and a couple unearned runs, Cole settled in and generated a plethora of swings and misses.
Anthony Santander, fresh from Triple-A, had an eight pitch at-bat in the first that resulted in a double on a sharply hit ground ball down the right field line. The next ball in play was a seemingly routine grounder to third that was fielded by Yuli Gurriel but thrown high to first base, allowing Trey Mancini to reach safely.
With runners on first and second and a chance to get to Cole early, cleanup hitter Chance Sisco struck out swinging. But Stevie Wilkerson got plunked by a 98 mph fastball, which was Cole’s first hit batter of the year, and the O’s had the bases loaded.
On the first pitch of his at-bat, Rio Ruiz lined a single against the shift and into left field, plating two runs. Then Keon Broxton worked the count full but struck out on some high 90s heat. The O’s center fielder finished the night 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
Cole seemed completely unfazed by his rocky first inning. He came back out in the second, getting ahead of batters early and striking out the first two Orioles he faced before inducing a weakly hit grounder from Hanser Alberto to end the inning.
While most of the attention was on the Astros’ right-hander, Baltimore’s Gabriel Ynoa was quietly having a solid start to the game. He walked his very first batter, but came back to get a double play and a pop-up. Then he retired the side in order in the second, with his pitch count at only 20 pitches heading into the third. That was less than half of Cole’s pitch count at the time (44).
The Birds were able to add to their lead in the third inning. After losing round one at the plate against Cole, Sisco went opposite field for a solo homer in his second at-bat, giving the O’s a 3-0 lead. The O’s catcher finished the night 1-for-5 with a homer and three strikeouts.
To start the Astros’ half of the third, Tyler White reached second base when Ynoa made an errant throw to first on a line drive hit directly back to the mound. After the runner moved to third on a ground out, Ynoa fielded another grounder to the mound and nearly threw it away again. But thanks to Chris Davis’ hops and his footwork, the O’s got the second out of the inning without letting the Astros score. A strikeout would end the threat.
Houston got on the board in the fifth thanks to a solo home run by Josh Reddick, his seventh of the year. It was just the second hit of the game off Ynoa at the time. But then White earned a walk and Tony Kemp blasted a moonshot into the second deck in right, tying the game at three apiece.
Ynoa was allowed to come back out for the sixth with his pitch count at 77. Sean Armstrong could be seen warming in the pen, indicating Ynoa’s night would probably end with the next sign of trouble. But he struck out Michael Brantley after falling behind 3-0 in the count. He went 0-2 to the next batter, Gurriel, before inducing a harmless ground ball for out number two. Then Reddick lined to center, sending the game into the seventh and completing a respectable bounce-back inning for Ynoa.
Despite the three runs allowed, Cole was very impressive on the Astros’ side. It seemed like he was striking out every other Oriole batter, at least. He struck out the side in the seventh — his last inning — and flashed high 90s heat from start to end. He finished his night with 14 strikeouts and didn’t allow a single free pass.
Cole’s pitching line looked like this: 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 14 SO, 1 HR. Ynoa’s final stat line was: 6 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO and 2 HR.
Flash forward to the ninth, as the two bullpens are trading scoreless innings. Reddick reached base on an opposite field single with one out, putting the go-ahead run on first base.
So Brandon Hyde removed Richard Bleier and brought in Mychal Givens. The right-hander quickly got a fly ball out, but then Reddick stole second base and advanced to third when Sisco’s throw skipped past Alberto and into center field. With the count 0-2, White struck out on some high heat, sending the game into extra innings.
It stayed scoreless until the bottom of the 11th. Branden Kline was on the mound for the O’s with two outs and Gurriel on first, representing the winning run. Robinson Chirinos then lined a ball into left field corner, leading to a play at the plate.
Wilkerson fielded the ball cleanly in left and fired it to the cut-off man Jonathan Villar, who fired a one-hop strike to Sisco ahead of the runner. But the catcher was never able to corral the ball and despite blocking the plate well, the umpiring crew ruled — even after a video replay — that Gurriel somehow got his hand on the plate.
Not even a walk-off is the same in the age of instant replay.
The Orioles hung with the best team in the American League for 10 and a half innings. And to lose it on a disputed play at the plate like they did makes this one even harder to take. The Birds will look to bounce back in game two of the series late tomorrow afternoon.