HOUSTON - Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis made one of the most important plays of the today's game by running down Jose Altuve's fly ball in the second inning to leave the bases loaded and the score tied.
To think, he almost came out of the lineup.
Manager Buck Showalter told reporters following a 4-1 victory over the Astros that Markakis reported to the clubhouse with neck stiffness.
"It kind of loosened up during the latter part of BP," Showalter said. "That's another typical Markakis move. It's happened a bunch of times."
Wins have been scarce. The Orioles ended a four-game losing streak by getting key contributions from Markakis, starter Chris Tillman, reliever Ryan Webb and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, among others.
Tillman worked 6 2/3 innings for his fifth quality start after pitching poorly in his two previous outings.
"I think we needed it, not just him," Showalter said. "You know, very quietly, as much as we keep talking about some of the quality pitching against us, our guys have pitched pretty well. And you've got to do it, as good as their starters are.
"(Dallas) Keuchel's been as good a pitcher probably been in the league this year. He's been solid. I thought Webb was clean again. Ryan, very quietly, is really coming on."
Tillman held the Astros to one run after allowing 14 over his two previous starts covering 6 2/3 innings.
"He had some life on his fastball," Showalter said. "I thought after the first inning he reached back and got a little more fastball. I can see he gets that little look in his eye like, 'Enough of this. Let's go.'
"Very few sequences did he have real good command of the curveball. I thought Caleb (Joseph) did a good job with him."
The Orioles drew four walks today after having one in their previous 26 innings.
"You don't like your chances much against Keuchel. Another SEC boy from Arkansas, right?" Showalter said. "I think one of them might have kind of been intentional/unintentional. He didn't want to give in there and it got away from him, but there were some real patient at-bats. And Adam (Jones) almost finished his off."
Is it possible for hitters to pass the baton via walks?
"Not always the case, but they feed off that a little bit," Showalter said. "But I'll say it again: You can't take until you hit. There's a fine line between it.
"You know the guy's going to be around the plate. He makes a living out of having a pitch appear in the middle of the plate and take you off the sweet part of the bat. We've had a lot of weak contact off their pitchers and not a whole lot of strikeouts, but that's quality pitching is what it is."
Manny Machado was 1-for-19 before collecting two infield hits.
"I was kidding home on the mound," Showalter said. "I said, '(Matt) Wieters got you at 4.13 down the line, so I don't want to hear anything about your knee. You're running good.' He was laughing. He's got a real good peer group around him. He and Jonathan. They are both college seniors. Sometimes we got to keep that in mind."
Cruz hit his 20th home run, had a sacrifice fly and drew a base-loaded walk to run his RBI total to 52. He leads the majors in homers and RBIs.
Is Showalter, a superstitious man, tired of being asked about Cruz?
"No, I'm not tired. Please do and I'll keep not talking about it," he said, grinning.
"No, he's in a good place. It's fun to watch him. Fun to watch him. He'll lament being out (attempting to steal) close at third base, but I like that. I tell them all the time, you see something, you feel something, go for it. Pick it. I think it's a good thing sometimes to do something that's not completely by the book, so to speak. You can get too predictable.
"Nelson is letting the ball travel, letting it get deep. He's got the reputation as streaky. I don't think I've ever seen him this locked in for this period of time. A lot of guys at his age kind of start figuring out who they are and learning from their mistakes through the years, in more ways than one."