OK, now we’re having some fun.
The Orioles stunned the Astros for the second straight night, delivering a 13-3 beatdown in Houston to earn consecutive road wins for the first time in nearly two months. A suddenly explosive O’s offense turned a once-tense game into a laugher with nine runs in the final two innings, earning a series win over a team that entered with the best record in the AL.
Those hoping for a faster-paced game than last night’s four-hour, 19-minute marathon — such as this recapper, who wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour — were in for disappointment when it took nearly an hour to complete the first two innings. The game ultimately ended in a “brisk” three hours and 53 minutes.
It was a slog, but at least it was an interesting slog. This game, as SNL’s Stefon would say, had everything. A balk that wasn’t a balk. A pickoff that wasn’t a pickoff. A premature home run trot that turned into an out on the bases. A position player pitching. A first major league win. A first major league save. And not one but both starting pitchers leaving the game with injuries, including one on his own birthday, while still another pitcher got knocked around on his birthday.
But some things remain constant, and for the Orioles, that means Cedric Mullins being awesome. The Birds’ All-Star-in-the-making led off the game with a blast off Astros starter Jose Urquidy, his fourth leadoff homer and 14th of the year. Which reminds me...
Mullins was one of just five batters Urquidy would face. While pitching in the second, Urquidy called the trainer to the mound and left with right shoulder discomfort. The Astros were suddenly pressed into a bullpen game.
They weren’t the only ones. The O’s named Travis Lakins Sr. as their starter — on his 27th birthday! — thinking he’d perhaps work two innings before passing the baton. Lakins didn’t get that far, befalling a similar fate to that of his Astros counterpart. After a scoreless first inning, Lakins was suddenly unable to throw strikes in the second, issuing three walks, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch. Lakins was also called for a phantom balk by home plate umpire Junior Valentine, though not a soul could determine what errant movement Lakins might have made to merit such a punishment. “That’s a ridiculous call,” said MASN analyst Jim Palmer.
The Astros plated a run on a sac fly and loaded the bases, and suddenly it was Lakins’ turn to summon a trainer from the dugout. After a quick conversation, Lakins handed the ball to Brandon Hyde and exited the mound. At 40 pitches, he probably wasn’t long for the game anyway, but that’s a brutal way to have to depart on your birthday, of all days. The O’s later announced a diagnosis of right elbow discomfort, something you never want to hear about a pitcher. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t ended up being a serious injury for Lakins.
For the second straight game, Adam Plutko was brought in to face the AL’s batting average leader, Michael Brantley, in a huge situation. And just as he did for last night’s final out, Plutko retired Brantley on a fly to left, stranding the bases loaded and keeping Lakins’ final line relatively clean.
The bizarreness continued in the third, when reliever Andre Scrubb had Mullins picked off at first base, only for Cedric to lead Astros on a wild goose chase of a rundown, discombobulating them so thoroughly that Jose Altuve dropped the ball and Mullins returned safely to first. The O’s didn’t score, but it was a fun play.
Then came the bottom of the fourth, when the Astros pulled off a dubious feat that could be the subject of a brain teaser: their first three batters of the inning all reached base, yet none of them scored, and none of them even got into scoring position. Wait, howzzat? The O’s can thank a series of Astros baserunning blunders. First, Myles Straw, after a leadoff walk, got thrown out by Austin Wynns trying to steal second.
Martin Maldonado then blasted a drive to deep left-center and stared it down, certain it was a home run. It was not, instead bouncing high off the wall. By the time Maldonado bailed on his home run trot and actually started running hard, Ryan McKenna had fielded the ball and thrown him out at second. Poor showing, Martin. “He got exactly what he deserved,” said Palmer, who was feeling especially punchy tonight.
Altuve followed with a walk, which may well have loaded the bases had the two guys ahead of him not run into outs. Instead, the threat fizzled when Alexander Wells relieved Plutko and retired Brantley on a groundout.
The Orioles regained the lead in the fifth against lefty Brooks Raley, who turned 33 today. Singles by the eight and nine hitters, Maikel Franco and Wynns, followed by a Maldonado passed ball, put two in scoring position with one out. Mullins had a rare poor at-bat, striking out swinging, but his good friend Austin Hays bailed him out by lacing a clutch single to left-center to plate both runners. 3-1, Orioles.
The lead was sadly short-lived. In the bottom half of the inning, Abraham Toro matched Hays’ feat by delivering a two-out, two-run single of his own off Wells, knotting the score. That rally was sparked by a walk to Carlos Correa, one of nine in the game for O’s pitchers after issuing 10 of them in Monday’s opener. Not great! It’s amazing that the Birds have gotten away with wins both times. Even Wells, who was the master of avoiding walks throughout his minor league career, has fallen victim to the wildness that has afflicted the Orioles pitching staff. He’s walked four in his first two big league games.
Wells managed to work a scoreless sixth despite two more baserunners, and the O’s scored in the seventh to give him a second chance at his first big league win. This time Mullins did come through in a two-out RBI spot, roping a first-pitch double off Ryne Stanek to plate Ramon Urias, who had led off with a single. The Birds were back in front, 4-3, as Cedric once again played hero. Shall I post the link again?
Wells got one out in the seventh before a single ended his night. Overall, it was a decent performance from the Aussie rookie, who did a valuable job of eating innings — 2.2 of them — while giving up two runs and four hits. Dillon Tate made quick work of the next two hitters with a pair of groundouts, stranding the tying run on base.
In the eighth, the O’s did their best to build an insurmountable lead, if such a thing can even exist against the hot-hitting Astros. Anthony Santander finally unleased a much-needed big swing, socking a home run into the right field seats, his first blast since June 8.
That opened the floodgates. The next three batters all reached base against Stanek, and Franco, who’s struggled all season, delivered perhaps his biggest hit of the year with a bases-clearing double off the center field wall. Now we’re talking, Maikel! That extended the lead to 8-3. Stanek was ultimately tagged for five runs, the final one scoring on a Hays RBI single off Blake Taylor, just after Mullins legged out an infield single for his third hit.
His pitching staff depleted, Astros manager Dusty Baker turned to infielder Robel Garcia to pitch the ninth, and the Orioles did what you should do in such a situation: hit him hard. They collected five hits, including two-run homers by both Urias and Wynns as well as Mullins’ fourth base knock, making it 13-3.
How about this O’s offense, huh? It was the second straight night they’d hung nine or more runs on the Astros pitching staff, and nearly everyone contributed. Five different batters had multi-hit, multi-RBI games, and only one (Monday’s hero, Ryan Mountcastle) failed to reach base.
Tate handled the rest of the game himself, working 2.2 scoreless, hitless innings with only a walk and HBP blemishing his pitching line. For the effort, he earned his first big league save, while Wells garnered his first big league win. Big night for the young pitchers!
And a big night for the Orioles, who hadn’t won two road games in a row since April 30-May 1 in Oakland, and hadn’t won a road series since May 3-5 in Seattle. These past two games haven’t been the prettiest, but they’ll take wins however they can get them.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Tuesday, June 29?
This poll is closed
Maikel Franco (3-for-5, 2 doubles, 3 R, 3 RBI)
Cedric Mullins (4-for-5, leadoff HR, go-ahead RBI single in seventh)
Dillon Tate (2.2 scoreless, hitless innings, first ML save)
Alexander Wells (2.2 IP, 2 ER, first ML win)