Two days ago, the Orioles lost a game after All-Star closer Félix Bautista came in to protect a multi-run lead and gave up a grand slam. On Thursday afternoon, Bautista was in to protect a multi-run lead again and again he ended up with Tucker at the plate representing the go-ahead run. Here, Bautista found himself with one run in already and the bases loaded before he got the third out to save a 5-4 Orioles victory over the Astros.
This should have been the game that saved the bullpen and did not require Bautista to be used at all, because Dean Kremer did exactly what the Orioles needed him to do with a seven inning start where he gave up just two runs. Only two solo homers - each of which barely cleared the fence in the part of the park they went out - were blemishes against Kremer. The offense scored five runs. It could have been an easy one, except that the 2023 Orioles don’t believe in easy, or if they do, they sure don’t show it.
The Orioles wasted no time getting themselves on the board. Adley Rutschman, batting leadoff, homered to start the home half of the first inning. Rutschman was hitting from the left side and hit his homer into the front row of the Bird Bath Splash Zone. That’s a noteworthy feat as it makes him the first lefty Orioles batter to clear Walltimore and only the second player to ever do it; Dodger James Outman was the first on July 19. Mr. Splash had two chances to spray his section: Once after the homer and again after a short crew chief review confirmed that there was no fan interference and it really was a homer. Still only counted for one run, though.
This lead lasted exactly zero batters into the top of the second. Kremer gave up a leadoff home run of his own, a shot to right field by Astros catcher Yainer Diaz. Isn’t that just typical? This did not spin out into a disaster, though. Kremer kept a lid on the Astros despite having multiple men on base in the third, fifth, and sixth innings. He proved to be up to the task of pressure innings against a quality playoff contender.
Kremer was handed another lead in the bottom of the third inning. Third baseman Ramón Urías led off the inning with his second triple of the series, once again taking advantage of Tucker’s inexperience playing right field at Camden Yards to motor to third base on a misplayed ball. Tucker, perhaps thinking Urías’s ball was going to go over the fence, overran the ricochet off the front of the grounds crew shed and Urías, to his credit, was running hard enough to capitalize.
Having a man on third base with less than two out is an area that, if you can believe, it, the Orioles have excelled this season. It’s okay if you don’t believe it because of the fresh memory of Rutschman leading off the game with a triple yesterday and not being driven home. In total, though, the O’s entered Thursday with a .343/.372/.554 batting line when trying to bring a man home with less than two outs, with 36 sacrifice flies and one sacrifice bunt. MLB-wide, the OPS in those situations is .835. The O’s are ahead of this by nearly a hundred points.
Recently hot James McCann came through with a frozen rope up the middle that came close to striking Astros pitcher Hunter Brown. The Orioles took the lead, for good as it turned out, not that they let anybody relax about it the rest of the way. This rally was not sustained, as the team made the tactical choice to have McCann take off for second as Rutschman batted with a full count.
Rutschman watched a third strike and McCann was thrown out by a mile. This was the first of three times in the game that a not particularly fast Orioles runner was thrown out trying to get to second base. The sixth inning ended with Rutschman trying to advance on a ball in the dirt, while the seventh saw another strikeout double play as Austin Hays was called out on strikes on a full count with Adam Frazier running to second. Had the Astros staged the comeback, this would have loomed larger.
They did not stage the comeback. Kremer’s pitching was a big part of this, although he did get a little help from his friends. Protecting a 3-1 lead in the fifth, Kremer gave up two-out singles to Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, then the slugger Yordan Alvarez came up to bat. Alvarez connected for a 115.2mph line drive. There are only 20 players this season who have hit a ball at least that hard. It is not easy to field anything hit that hard. Frazier laid out to field it on a short hop and completed what was then an easy toss for the third out.
Kremer’s luck ran out in the seventh inning. Altuve touched him up for a solo home run with two outs. This one, like Diaz’s second inning homer, didn’t clear the fence by much. Hays, playing center field, put a lot of steps into the effort of getting to the wall in front of the bullpen to jump for it. The effort is not going to score well on “route efficiency” though, as Hays went this way and that and wasn’t in position to try a Spider-Man climb for the highlight reel. Instead, his wrist bent a little funny as he crashed into the wall and tried to lunge his glove up and over the fence. Altuve rounded the bases, the Orioles lead cut to 3-2.
Hays stayed in the game. The Astros did nothing more against Kremer though, who finished his day with six hits and two walks allowed over seven innings, with two earned runs allowed on the two solo homers. Kremer struck out five and threw 91 pitches in his seven innings. I might have liked to see him start the eighth, but with the Orioles bullpen being what it is, guaranteeing a clean inning is a good plan too.
Crucial insurance arrived for the Orioles in the bottom of the seventh, with the Ryan-Ryan tandem in the lineup coming through. Ryan O’Hearn led off the inning with a double. The Astros starter Brown, still in the game, greeted Ryan Mountcastle with a tower-buzzer of an up and in pitch. Mountcastle did not look pleased with the pitch location, and he channeled his anger in the most possible productive way, unleashing it on the very next thrown baseball. The ball landed in front of the cameraman whose job it is to swing around and show fans when Mr. Splash is drenching his section. That’s a 5-2 Orioles lead.
Frazier followed Mountcastle’s homer with a single, which had Brown lifted from the game, five runs allowed in six-plus innings. The previously mentioned strikeout double play impeded the O’s chances of taking the game out of being a save situation.
Given empty bases to start the eighth, Cionel Pérez was nearly equal to the task of pitching a scoreless inning. I have to say nearly equal because he gave up a one-out single to Tucker and then, after getting a weak grounder from Jon Singleton, Pérez didn’t get to first base quickly enough, leading to a flip from first baseman Mountcastle that Pérez tried and failed to catch with his bare hand.
Having failed to get out two lefties, Pérez was pulled for Yennier Cano. In better circumstances, Cano was probably going to pitch the ninth. That’s not what we got. Cano threw four pitches to Astros left fielder Mauricio Dubón, who swung at the three that were out of the strike zone. Usually that’s a good thing except Dubón’s lunge for the last pitch - the farthest outside of the bunch - was poked into right field for a run-scoring single, cutting the lead to 5-3. Cano threw 10 pitches getting one out and that’s surely why he didn’t get the ninth.
So, Bautista in the ninth. We’ve all felt pretty good about that until Tuesday’s gigantic mess. Ideally he would have had another day to rest after that pitch-heavy failed outing. That’s not what we got. Much like with Tuesday, it could have been an easy one with a bit better luck. Bautista retired his first man with an easy pop-up.
The lineup turned over to Altuve, a triple shy of the cycle. Altuve hit a fly ball to left field that used up every bit of the new ground in front of Walltimore. Hays, who’d switched to left with Ryan McKenna playing center starting in the eighth, again put effort into getting to the wall to try to make a play. Again, he was just shy of being able to reach the wall and brace himself against it. Hays’s jump came up short by the diameter of a baseball. The ball hit the wall, then Hays’s glove, and Altuve had his fourth hit - a double, so still a triple shy.
Bautista did not help himself from here, walking first Bregman and then Tucker to load the bases with two outs. Admittedly, walking Tucker is better than giving up another home run to Tucker. The bases loaded, two out, Diaz hit a laser line drive that the Gold Glover Urías laid out to try to catch. Urías had this ricochet off the tip of his glove, backed up by Gunnar Henderson. A run scored, but Urías’s desperate dive probably saved the game. In trouble, pitch count climbing, Bautista dialed up three 100+mph fastballs to Singleton, the last of which he popped out to Henderson, ending the game.
Never a doubt, right? The streak lives, as it has done for the duration of Rutschman’s Orioles career plus one series before that. That’s 76 straight series without being swept, extending the post-WW2 MLB record that has belonged to the O’s for a few series now. The Orioles did the “win the last game to stave off the sweep” for the seventh time this season. Kremer improved to 11-4 and lowered his ERA to 4.50. Bautista’s save was his 31st. The guy needs some rest.
In an odd quirk, the Orioles completed this game without ever leaving a runner on base. The Baltimore Banner’s Andy Kostka noted that it’s the first time since 2015 that this has happened to the team and just the 14th time in franchise history. Three TOOTBLANs and two homers will do that to you.
A three-city west coast road trip awaits, so those of us in Birdland home territory can prepare for some late nights. The team is shifting to a six-man rotation starting with this road trip, manager Brandon Hyde told reporters before the game. Kyle Gibson, fresh off celebrating his 10 years of service time milestone, makes the 10:10 Friday start in Seattle, with Luis Castillo - owner of a 3.21 ERA - pitching for the Mariners.
The Orioles are now 71-44. The magic number for them to clinch the AL East is 45.
Who is your Most Birdland Player for August 10, 2023?
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Dean Kremer (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K)
Ryan Mountcastle (two-run homer for revenge)
Adley Rutschman (2-4 with 2 RBI, including leadoff homer)