HOUSTON – Kyle Bradish needed to be the stopper today on a team with a winning streak.
The right-hander and staff ace was tasked with halting the deluge of phone calls from the visiting dugout to the bullpen, to restore a sense of calm and resume his dominance of the Astros.
Bradish did what he could with six scoreless innings and nine strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 3.01 and raising his quality start total to 17, but what happens after he leaves?
Jacob Webb preserved a slim lead in the seventh, but Shintaro Fujinami issued a pair of walks in the eighth that set up Jeremy Peña for a game-tying double off Mike Baumann.
Manager Brandon Hyde turned to Danny Coulombe in the ninth and the game was over after three batters. A chance at a 10th series sweep was gone.
Yanier Diaz led off with a double and moved up on a ground ball, and he scored on Maurice Dubón’s single into right field to give the Astros a 2-1 win before an announced crowd of 36,427 at Minute Maid Park.
The Orioles are 95-57 and lead the Rays, who play later tonight, by two games in the American League East. The magic number remained at eight to clinch it.
"Anytime you go on the road and get two out of three in Houston is a big deal," said Adam Frazier. "I guess it's a little bitter because we felt like we were right there to get the sweep, but that's a good team over there. To hold them down like we did was a pretty good job by our pitchers. We would have liked to put a couple more runs across there. We felt pretty good about our chances to take care of this third game."
Fujinami walked pinch-hitter Yordan Álvarez and Jose Altuve on four pitches, getting a line drive in between from pinch-hitter Jon Singleton that Frazier caught. Baumann faced Peña and surrendered a run-scoring double into right-center field to erase a 1-0 lead that existed since the first.
Kyle Tucker was issued an intentional walk, Alex Bregman struck out and Frazier made a leaping grab of José Abreu’s 104.6 mph ground ball that took a high hop off the mound.
Fujinami was charged with three runs Monday in one-third of an inning and another one today in one-third.
"It's about throwing strikes with him," said manager Brandon Hyde. "He's done it. He was on a nice little roll there. Today, it was a lot of arm-side misses. Stuff's good within the strike zone."
Dubón came off the bench as a pinch-runner and left the ballpark a hero after poking his single into right field.
"These guys are the defending champs over there, so we know what they're capable of. Everybody knows that," Frazier said.
"There's a good chance we'll see them again in a couple weeks. But until then, we've got to finish strong. We've got Cleveland coming up, so try to get after them tomorrow."
Cristian Javier struck out 11 batters in five innings but fell behind 1-0 in the first on Adley Rutschman’s one-out double and Anthony Santander’s single – the outfielder’s team-leading 85th RBI this season.
"We had a tough time making contact," Hyde said. "I thought he had a good fastball, kind of a sneaky fastball, kept us off-balance."
Bradish hasn’t allowed a run to the Astros in three career outings over 22 2/3 innings. He’s surrendered only six hits, including two today, walked four batters and struck out 25. No extra-base hits in the bunch.
"He pitches well against good teams because he's got big-time stuff," Hyde said.
"Just lock it in a little bit more," Bradish said. "I know they've got really good players one through nine, so got to focus that much more.
"They're probably going to be the No. 2 seed, so hopefully we'll see them again. But this is a good atmosphere. It's a complete team. It was a good test today."
Hyde had gone to his bullpen 17 times since Saturday, when Grayson Rodriguez tossed eight scoreless innings against the Rays. He hadn’t used a reliever three days in a row until breaking his rule with Yennier Cano and Cionel Pérez on Tuesday.
With his slider practically untouchable, Bradish limited the Astros to an infield single by Chas McCormick through the fifth. A ball that Ramón Urías couldn’t get out of his glove on the first try, the double-clutch ruining his chances at the out.
Rutschman threw out McCormick attempting to steal and Bradish struck out the other two batters.
Bregman drew a leadoff walk in the second and Abreu grounded into a 6-3 double play. Bradish had faced the minimum number of batters through the fourth.
Bregman walked again to begin the fifth and advanced on a wild pitch, but Bradish struck out two with his slider and induced a harmless fly ball.
The first clean hit came in the sixth on Jake Meyers’ leadoff single into right field. Martín Maldonado laid down a sacrifice bunt, Altuve struck out on three pitches – two sliders setting up a curveball – and Peña appeared to strike out in a nine-pitch at-bat but was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. Tucker lined out on a check swing.
"Tough lineup to pitch against and he was outstanding," Hyde said. "He was really good. Pitched in a 1-0 game and deserved a win."
The slider was a big-time swing-and-miss pitch today, producing six of the strikeouts.
"It's probably the best it's been the past few outings," Bradish said. "Able to keep them honest inside with the sinker, but a lot of righties in there, so was able to stick to my strength and use my slider a lot."
Bradish has gone six innings or more in seven consecutive starts and 14 of 15.
"I feel locked in," he said. "I've kind of felt that way all year. Would have liked to go a little deeper in the game, but had some extra pitches there in the sixth inning and was able to work out of it."
"It's been fun to watch," Frazier said. "He's mixing up four or five different pitches up there, so they're all hard, they're all plus pitches. It makes it tough on opposing hitters. And I think he's shown that throughout the season. We're glad he's on our side and look forward to him taking the mound every time he does."
Javier retired 12 of 13 after Santander’s RBI single and didn’t allow another hit until Frazier reached on an infield single with one out in the fifth. Urías walked and Javier stranded them.
Manager Dusty Baker removed Javier at 91 pitches.
"His ball rides a lot and has a hoppy heater," Frazier said. "He was painting curveballs away to lefties today. It's not like we're the only team he's pitched well against, so hats off to him today."
Santander had a leadoff double in the sixth against Hector Neris and Ryan O’Hearn reached on an infield hit, but two line drives and a ground ball kept the score 1-0.
Webb hit a batter in the seventh but got out of the inning, with Cedric Mullins running down two fly balls on the warning track. But Fujinami’s lapses in control returned today, along with Hyde’s usage of the bullpen phone.
* A scoring change from Saturday’s game has removed an error from Tampa Bay’s Osleivis Basabe in the fifth inning and awarded a hit to O’Hearn.
The Orioles are holding their first instructional camp in Sarasota, which runs through Oct. 8 and focuses on weight room training and skill development. These camps aren’t open to the public.
The list of players includes the following:
C Samuel Basallo
LHP Jared Beck
INF Frederick Bencosme
OF Enrique Bradfield Jr.
RHP Trace Bright
RHP Moisés Chace
OF Jake Cunningham
RHP Luis De León
INF Anderson De Los Santos
OF Matthew Etzel
OF Douglas Hodo III
INF/OF Mac Horvath
RHP Seth Johnson
OF Tavian Josenberger
C Andrés Nolaya
RHP Jean Pinto
LHP Juan Rojas
C Cole Urman
INF Jalen Vasquez
C Creed Willems
INF Carter Young