Coming into this series in Houston, there was a sizable amount of the baseball-watching public who saw the Astros as the best team in the AL. On Tuesday the Orioles continued to prove those people wrong with a 9-5 win over Houston.
The Orioles proved Tuesday that they were better than the Astros at hitting home runs—as a veritable Home Run Derby breaking out in Texas. Ryan O’Hearn was the first competitor to get on the board, as he continued his scorching start to this series against the Astros. After an Anthony Santander double in the top of the 1st, the Orioles 1B launched a two-run shot into deep left center to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead.
Ryan O'Hearn is hotter than the sun. pic.twitter.com/bm21TMxyoI— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 20, 2023
The Astros tied things in the bottom of the 1st with a two-run homer of their own, but the Orioles would respond two innings later. In the top of the third, Santander reached on a bloop single to between the 2B and RF. O’Hearn then followed up with a single up the middle past the glove of Jose Altuve—giving the O’s two on with one out. Austin Hays then one upped O’Hearn, pouncing on a hanging curveball and sending a three-run HR over the short porch in LF.
Down 5-2 in the bottom of the 3rd, the Astros added their second home run of the game on a solo shot. After scoreless innings from both teams in the 4th and 5th, the O’s decided to break put a pause on the Home Run Derby to prove they’re also better at small ball. In the top of the 6th, Cedric Mullins worked a leadoff walk and then stole second to give the Orioles a runner in scoring position. Heston Kjerstad hit a deep fly ball to left-center to allow Mullins to tag up and move to third. Then, after an Adam Frazier walk, James McCann dropped a perfect bunt down the first base line to score Mullins and give the O’s a 6-3 lead. Gunnar Henderson provided another insurance run when his flipped a curveball into RF to score Frazier.
James McCann is a ballplayer. pic.twitter.com/enJJDZWYAw— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 20, 2023
The Astros evidently didn’t like the move away from the Home Run Derby and restarted the long ball barrage with their second two run shot in the bottom of the 6th. With the homer scoreboard now at 3-2 in favor of Houston, the Orioles had to respond and respond they did. Hays launched and even deeper home run—this time a solo shot to left center—to push the Orioles lead back to 8-5. Two batters later, Kjerstad got his second big league homer when he muscled a ball the other way into the short porch. The fourth home run of the night gave Baltimore gave the O’s their four run lead and put them back in front in the homer parade.
Heston, we have a problem pic.twitter.com/48GGURtOqv— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 20, 2023
All of this offense was necessary to help out an inconsistent pitching staff. The night started with a solid but wholly unspectacular outing for Orioles starter Kyle Gibson. After O’Hearn gave the O’s an early 2-0 lead in the top of the 1st, Gibson took the mound looking to keep the O’s on top. After giving up a leadoff double to Jose Altuve, Gibby got Alex Bregman to ground out and Yordan Alvarez to strikeout. However, the veteran couldn’t get all the way out of the inning as he grooved a 3-2 cutter to Kyle Tucker, who promptly deposited it into the right field bleachers.
Gibson was slightly better in the 2nd and 3rd. Astros catcher Yanier Diaz hit a one-out double in the 2nd, but the Orioles’ veteran starter was able to strand him at 3rd after a strikeout of Mauricio Dubón and a groundout by Jeremy Peña. Pitching with a lead again in the 3rd, Gibson walked Altuve to lead off the inning but James McCann later erased the Astros 2B when he tried to steal second. That turned Bregman’s home run in the next at-bat from a two-run homer to a solo shot, as the 3B cut the lead to 5-3.
After working a perfect inning in the 4th, Gibson finally ran into his final jam in the 5th inning. Dubón led off the inning with an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error by Jorge Mateo. Gibson got the next two outs with relative ease—K’ing Peña and getting Altuve to ground into a fielder’s choice that got Dubón caught in a rundown. However, after Gibby walked Bregman, Brandon Hyde decided he’d seen enough—as he brought in DL Hall to face the powerful lefty Alvarez. A final line of 4.2 innings, five hits, three runs and five Ks is far from special, but Gibson put the O’s in a position to win.
The bullpen was equally up and down in relief of Gibson. Birthday boy Hall came in and got Alvarez to ground out to end the 5th. The 25-year-old lefty should’ve had two outs in the 6th, but Adam Frazier booted a grounder to let the first hitter reach—but he came back to strike out José Abreu to end his evening. Jorge López then relieved Hall and continued his struggles with giving up the long ball. After López got Chas McCormick to fly out to right, he gave up a two-run homer to catcher Yanier Diaz on a fly ball to the RF corner.
Those were the last runs the Astros would score thanks to two shaky but scoreless innings of relief from Jack Flaherty and a successful tightrope act from Yenier Cano and Cionel Pérez in the 9th. Making his first relief appearance as an Oriole worked around a single and a HBP to post a zero in the bottom of the 7th. The Orioles deadline acquisition then gave up a leadoff single in the 8th, but came back to strikeout McCormick and get Diaz to ground into an inning ending double play.
Hyde sent Flaherty back out for the 9th, but quickly pulled the plug on his former-starter’s save attempt after he gave up a leadoff single. Cano then enter and became the first Orioles pitcher all season to pitch in three-straight games. The O’s closer gave up a single to the first batter he faced in Peña, but then got the former-MVP Altuve to ground into a double play that cut down both of the lead runners. Cano couldn’t finish off the save, though, as a walk to Bregman ended his night. Hyder brought in Pérez to face Alavarez and the lefty from Cuba struck out his compatriot looking on a fastball at the knees to end the game.
The win against Houston sees the Orioles hold serve with Tampa Bay—who beat the Angels 6-2 earlier on Tuesday. It also drops Baltimore’s magic number for the AL East pennant down to eight. As things stand, Houston could be a likely ALCS opponent for the Orioles should they handle their business in the ALDS. If things play out that way, the O’s proved these last two games that they’re fully capable of coming into Houston and mashing their way to a victory.
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