The Orioles lost a game, so what else is new? Orioles hitters put up next to nothing against the Astros veteran starter Zack Greinke, with just six hits on the night, four from the No. 2-4 hitters plus one apiece from DJ Stewart and Pat Valaika. There’s no mystery about the Orioles’ offensive struggles: tonight, the No. 5-8 hitters went a combined 1-for-12, while the No. 7-9 hitters have a .200/.263/.318 collected slashline on the year.
Even so, this loss had a slightly shinier feel to it. Maybe that’s Stockholm Syndrome. But to me, every good Jorge López start is pure poetry. Part of it is that I’m reminded that I’m not crazy: López’s stuff is actually really good. You remember it when he dots 97 at the kneecaps to end an inning. Part of it is because López was sent out to do battle against the best offense in Major League Baseball and emerged mostly unscathed, striking out six and allowing two runs (one after he exited) while pitching into the seventh inning for the first time this year.
Part of it, too, is that it’s a good feeling generally when a pitcher about every other team has given up on makes Orioles scouts look smart. Even if it’s just for one night. López’s one mistake tonight was a solo home run that just cleared the fence in the second inning, bouncing off some stupid Houston fan’s glove. Besides that, the 6’3” Puerto Rican with the ‘fro dominated.
The nastiest he looked may have been in the first inning. First, he brushed the diminutive, dangerous, and loudly booed José Altuve off the plate, then buried a changeup that Altuve swung over for strike three. Delightful. To the next guy, López dropped in a perfect knuckle curve, drove home a 97-mph fastball for strike two, and buried another curveball for strike three. “That’s about as good a curveball as you can throw,” said Jim Palmer. Well, that’s good enough for me. López allowed a pair of singles, but he struck out Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, to end the inning. It was impressive.
The second inning featured that weird home run, and this absolute webgem from Freddy Galvis.
Other than that, no drama. López rolled through the third inning, making Altuve look foolish again. In the fourth, he walked the leadoff man, but a flyball out and a Pat Valaika-minted double play ended any threat. Thanks, Pat!
The Orioles scraped together their only run of the night in the third inning when Pedro Severino worked a one-out walk on a questionable call from home ump Ted Barrett (Jim Palmer: “I think Greinke fooled the ump”). Pat Valaika singled to move Sevvie over to third. Greinke, determined to feed Cedric Mullins curveballs, fed Mullins one too many and the O’s centerfielder tied the game with a line drive sac fly.
Meanwhile, it was onto the fifth inning—the witching hour—and López kept rolling. A lazy flyout followed by a borderline walk brought up Altuve for the third time. This guy hit eight home runs in a 10-game stretch in June. Would Altuve homer here? He would not. Oddly, he tried to bunt on strike two and popped it foul into the glove of a pouncing Pedro Severino. López didn’t need any defensive assists to strike out the next batter with a swooping curveball.
Tempting fate, López rolled into the sixth inning to face the heart of the lineup. Batter No. 1 came to the plate with a .350 average. Groundout. Batter No. 2, with a .322 average, grounded out, too. Batter No. 3, hitting .307 so far, went to 3-0 against López, and I was seeing visions of a home run. Shame on me. A third groundball. López was through six innings—did I mention this already?— against the AL’s best offense.
Onto the seventh inning, and Jorge López came back out onto the mound for the first time all season. In fact, it’s happened exactly one time since López has been an Oriole. He got squeezed a little bit this time. After a flyball out and a cheap infield single, Brandon Hyde lifted López—but this time with a big grin on his face and to a minor standing O from the Baltimore fans. Roll the highlights!
Some games you get that feeling that the opposing team’s hitters won’t be denied forever, whereas your guys are lucky just to make solid contact for an out. The Astros are just a dangerous team, there’s no doubt about it. Here, however, the problem wasn’t so much that the hitters looked good as that our pitchers didn’t. Taking over for López, Hunter Harvey allowed the Astros’ second run to score on a 74-mph check-swing single that dove under a diving DJ Stewart’s glove. It looked to me like a catchable ball, but according to BaseballSavant, it had an xBA of .620. Whatever.
Unfortunately, Tanner Scott continues to have control issues, and in the eighth he left the bases loaded with no outs for Cole Sulser. A quick ground ball found a shifted-over Freddy Galvis, who made another throw from his knees to cut down the runner at the plate for the first out. Galvis did everything tonight, except win the game singlehandedly.
But a sac fly scored off of Sulser to put up the Astros up 3-1, which is where this one would end. Tyler Wells made a slick appearance in the ninth, silencing the Astros with a strikeout, pop-up, and another strikeout. The closer role for Wells: why not?
In other news, the Orioles kept shuffling their roster today, calling up knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, at 33 years and 188 days old the third-oldest Oriole to make his MLB debut and DFA’ing Mac Sceroler, who had a 14.09 ERA as a reliever. Fans are understandably getting frustrated at the poor play of late, but with these cuts—Rio Ruiz, Shawn Armstrong, Chance Sisco, Brandon Waddell (remember him?), and now Sceroler—the team is signaling that they won’t tolerate poor play indefinitely. Even cellar-dwellers gotta have standards.