The Orioles don’t know exactly how their rotation will set up through the last 12 games of the season. Tyler Wells left it today with a shoulder injury. Mike Baumann makes the start Saturday night. Grayson Rodriguez remains a possibility after being stretched to 83 pitches Wednesday with Triple-A Norfolk.
The uncertainty can’t interrupt the sense of calm that comes from a succession of outstanding performances.
What an interesting time of the year to get on a roll.
Jordan Lyles registered his second career complete game to close out the Tigers series. Kyle Bradish opened the Astros series with 8 2/3 scoreless innings. And Dean Kremer maintained his stride tonight while following in their footsteps.
Kremer tossed a complete-game shutout on a career-high 106 pitches and Adley Rutschman hit his 12th home run and reached base four times, enabling the Orioles to extend their winning streak to three games with a 6-0 victory over the Astros before an announced crowd of 22,833 at Camden Yards.
The gradual fade from the wild card race is stalling.
The Orioles (79-71) need two more wins to guarantee their first non-losing season since 2016. Their sites are set higher, of course. They moved within three games of the Mariners for the last wild card.
This is the first time that Orioles starters have gone 8 2/3 innings or more in three consecutive games since Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Kevin Brown pitched complete games on Sept. 26-29, 1995.
"It's fun to watch, when you have starting pitching like we've had the last few days," said manager Brandon Hyde. "The bullpen gets a break. I think all three days I had guys up in the seventh and eighth inning and they get through it. It's been a lot of fun. We're really throwing the ball well. They noticed what Jordan did and tried to follow suit, so great job by those guys."
Seven consecutive batters reached in the seventh inning, the only out a caught stealing, and the Orioles piled onto their 1-0 lead. Giving Kremer a cushion that was more luxury than necessity.
The last complete-game shutout for the Orioles belonged to John Means with his no-hitter on May 5, 2021 in Seattle.
"I think you're just seeing a guy really mature and learning from experiences and learning how to pitch," Hyde said.
"Just an outstanding start, obviously, but it's a young guy learning how to pitch."
Kremer hadn’t completed the sixth inning in his last three starts, but he soared past it tonight. He threw six pitches in the sixth and ran his streak of batters retired to eight. The Astros didn’t have a hit since Chas McCormick’s infield single leading off the third.
Yordan Alvarez beat out a slow bouncer to the right side leading off the seventh, giving both teams three hits, but a line drive and two fly balls got Kremer back into the dugout at 81 pitches.
Kremer exceeded his previous career high of 7 2/3 innings with a seven-pitch eighth. Jose Altuve started the ninth with a single, and Kremer got the last three outs while bringing the crowd to its feet.
Hyde didn't check on Kremer after the eighth.
"Left him alone," Hyde said.
Rutschman wanted Kremer to finish as much as the right-hander did. Really bad.
"I kept looking in the dugout to see, is he (Hyde) coming out, is he coming out?" Rutschman said. "But it's definitely cool to get that final out and a complete game."
Kremer received a double dousing from the dugout coolers as he did a postgame MASN interview, and received further celebratory treatment in the shower area. Ice chips were scattered on the rug in front of his locker.
"My teammates were very mean today," he said. "I got a cart shower, and any liquid, or maybe not even liquid, got dumped on my head. They were exceptionally angry because I have good hair."
Rutschman embraced Kremer on the mound as teammates gathered. Fireworks were set off. The Orioles rotation wants to end the season with a bang.
"All four or five pitches, he was able to command it, work around the zone, mix well," Rutschman said. "Just had a phenomenal outing."
"It's been really fun," Kremer said. "To see Jordan do it and then to see Kyle go into the ninth and then for me to do it, it's indescribable. It's a nice breather for the bullpen, as well, so two birds."
Kremer said studying Lyles' performance gave him "a hunger." He chewed up Houston's lineup.
"Like, OK, it's possible," he said. "Guys are going deeper into the games. And watching Lyles do it is special. There's nothing that rattles that guy. He gets it done every time. And Kyle has been lights out for over the last month, maybe two months. They're a blast to watch."
Orioles starters have held the Astros to two runs in 39 1/3 innings this season. Kremer allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six.
The Astros have been held to four runs in five games against the Orioles.
"Dean and Bradish had four of those games and they both have thrown extremely well in the games they started against them," Hyde said. "Not a ton of hard contact given up by Dean tonight, either. I just think we're pitching well, and it's a great team over there. We're competing. Maybe it's a little bit contagious. Maybe Bradish saw what Jordan did and Dean saw what Bradish and Jordan, and just want to keep it going.
"We still have two more games against these guys, facing a guy (Framber Valdez) tomorrow that is on a big-time roll, and it's a new day tomorrow. But I'm just really happy and proud of our young pitchers and how much they're improving and competing so well."
Said Kremer: "I think with these high-winning clubs, guys get tentative sometimes, they try to pitch around guys and whatnot. The motto for us this year is, we don't really care who's in the box. Just kind of go after them."
Rutschman has caught the back-to-back shutouts. Kremer called him a "game-changing player" who's improved tremendously in calling pitches and blending in the scouting reports.
"I don't think I've ever had anything quite like that," Rutschman said. "That was just so much fun. The last two days have been a blast. A testament to their work ethic, the time they put in. It's just fun to be there, be around, and see it happen."
"Two young pitchers and a really young catcher against a World Series club, it's really impressive, and can't be understated how hard that is and how good he is back there," said Hyde.
"The biggest thing I keep saying is he cares. He cares about what's happening on the mound, he cares about putting up a zero. It's very authentic and you see it, obviously."
Rutschman singled in the first inning and produced the game’s first run when he launched a José Urquidy fastball over the center field fence leading off the fourth. He’d also walk and double.
Jesús Aguilar opened the seventh with a single off Hector Neris, and pinch-runner Kyle Stowers raced to third base on Austin Hays’ single. Terrin Vavra’s check-swing produced a soft single into left field to score Stowers, Jorge Mateo reached on Neris’ throwing error after laying down a bunt, and Cedric Mullins lined a two-run single into center field for a 4-0 lead.
Mateo was thrown out at third base after Will Smith replaced Neris, but Rutschman lined an RBI double into left field and scored on Ryan Mountcastle’s single to complete a five-run outburst.
The Astros twice ran into outs at third base in the first four innings.
Altuve began the game by ripping a sinker down the left field line. The ball stuck in the corner, Hays retrieved it, and Altuve was out at third base on Mateo’s relay.
Alvarez drew his second walk with one out in the fourth and moved up on Rutschman’s first career passed ball. Alex Bregman grounded to Mateo, Alvarez broke for third base, and the outcome was predictable.
Kremer struck out the side in the fifth, his last pitch the 62nd of the night. And he was just getting warmed up.
The Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and couldn’t build on their lead. It wouldn’t matter in the end. They didn't need much while registering their 15th shutout, the most since 1992. Three are against the Astros.
Mateo singled and stole second base, Rutschman drew his 58th walk in 102 games, and Bryan Abreu replaced Urquidy. Mateo and Rutschman executed a double steal – giving Mateo 33 to lead the American League - and Mountcastle walked, but Anthony Santander struck out with the count full and Gunnar Henderson grounded out.
Alex Bregman made a nice backhand stop with Henderson hitting against the shift, and Yuli Gurriel handled the one-hop throw.
Kremer handled the Astros with the same ease.
"This is a special night," he said. "It may not happen ever again in my career. This is a night to remember, for sure."