Despite leading for most of the evening, a rare bad night for Orioles closer Félix Bautista ultimately sunk the AL East leaders. Kyle Tucker launched a ninth inning grand slam to lift the visiting Astros to a 7-6 win at Camden Yards on Tuesday night.
This one hurts because the Orioles did so many things right, appeared in control for most of the game, and it was their most dominant player that faltered late.
The O’s jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the game’s first two innings, against a Cy Young contender in Framber Valdez no less. The vibes were immaculate.
Ryan Mountcastle launched a massive two-run dong in the first that traveled beyond the bullpens in left-centerfield.
my goodness ryan mountcastle— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) August 8, 2023
four hundred and seventy two feet
longest o's homer in over four years pic.twitter.com/pUqqJQbGFM
In the second, they scored thrice more. Ramón Urías reached on a generously-scored triple that was misplayed by Tucker in right, and then scored on a James McCann dribbler that was thrown home late. Adley Rutschman then smacked a two-run shot of his own beyond Walltimore in left.
Baltimore added a sixth run off of Valdez in the fourth inning. Jordan Westburg led off with a double, moved to third on a Urías ground out, and then came home on a McCann sacrifice fly. Scoring six runs against anyone, but particularly someone like Valdez, should be enough to get the win.
Grayson Rodriguez did what he could to make that true. The rookie was back on the bump, looking to continue his resurgence since being recalled in July. You will be pleased to know that this outing was another step forward, and his ERA would fall once again. He had all of his best stuff, and although there was not quite as much swing and miss this time around he still handled himself well.
The only frame in which the Astros scored against the rookie was the third. It was two runs manufactured from a pair of walks, two singles, and a sacrifice fly. Other than that, he held strong despite constant pressure.
Rodriguez allowed runners on base in every inning except the fifth. But he did get a little help there from center fielder Jorge Mateo, who took away a would-be home run from Yordan Alvarez.
There were some fireworks in the sixth inning. With two outs, Gunnar Henderson and Mountcastle combined for a nice play to get an out at first base. But the runner, Jeremy Peña, was instead ruled safe. The O’s had already lost their challenge, and so had to hope that the umpire crew would review the play on their own accord. O’s manager Brandon Hyde came out to ask and ended up in a shouting match sans-hat that earned him an early trip to the clubhouse. There was no review, but Rodriguez would work out of the inning anyway.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde draws an ejection, complete with a hat spike. ⚾️ ♂️ pic.twitter.com/gDW4bPz6WX— The Comeback (@thecomeback) August 9, 2023
The Orioles offense screeched to a halt after the fourth inning, failing to advance a runner beyond second base from that point through the end of the game. Valdez settled down and made it through seven innings and neither of Houston’s relievers (Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly) even allowed a base runner.
Mike Baumann had a 1-2-3 seventh out of the O’s ‘pen, and then returned for the eighth in which he walked the lead-off hitter. Yennier Cano was called upon for the remainder of the inning. He retired the first two batters he faced before Peńa’s RBI single drew the visitors within three runs.
Then came the ninth. Bautista entered with a three-run lead and seemingly no idea where the ball was going out of his hand. Control was an issue for the O’s closer. His fastball had its phenomenal velocity, but it was all over the place. In fact, he was actually throwing all of his pitches a bit harder than normal. His fastball was up a tick, maxing out at 102.2 mph. The splitter and slider both had 2.2 mph above his average for the year.
Lead off hitter Jon Singleton walked in a six-pitch at-bat. Jose Altuve was jammed on a fastball inside, but managed to serve it into left field anyway. After an Alex Bregman strikeout, Yordan Alvarez hit a long fly ball to center field. Mateo got a bit turned around trying to run it down in front of the bullpen, leaped to make the catch, and instead had it bounce off his glove. All runners had to freeze though, so it was nothing more than a long single that loaded the bases. That brought Tucker to the plate.
Tucker was covering everything. He went down 0-2 but never looked uncomfortable at the plate. He took two balls to even the count, then fouled off four straight pitches (three fastballs, one splitter) before he got a 100-mph fastball thigh high in the middle of the plate that he laced into the bleachers in right-center field for a go-ahead grand slam.
Bautista simply got beat. Tucker is a good hitter, and he was right on the big man every step of the way. It’s not the first time the O’s closer has had an opposing hitter crush his fastball, and it probably won’t be the last. But on the whole you still expect him to emerge from the situation the victor. It just wasn’t his night.
The O’s hitters went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, although that included a strikeout by Ryan O’Hearn on a pitch that was several inches inside. Who knows what happens if he trots to first base instead and pinch hitter Colton Cowser gets chance to swing the bat.
The Rays beat the Cardinals 4-2 today, so the AL East lead has shrunk to two games. The Orioles will look to build it back up on Wednesday against these Astros. Jack Flaherty (8-6, 4.28 ERA) takes on Cristian Javier (7-2, 4.39 ERA). First pitch is 7:05.