HOUSTON - Astros left fielder Derek Fisher didn’t flinch. Didn’t move a muscle. Renato Núñez launched a ball over his head today in the sixth inning and he had no interest in watching its flight or checking where it landed. He knew only that he couldn’t touch it and a scoreless tie was history.
Anthony Santander raced to the fence in right-center field in the bottom half of the inning and made a leaping catch to rob Yuli Gurriel of a three-run homer. It went down in the books as a game-tying sacrifice fly, and also a double play with Santander firing to first base before Michael Brantley could get back. Perhaps the finest glove work to come out of the Orioles this season.
Two vastly different reactions and results in a game that moved at a brisk pace and again dumped the Orioles in close quarters. It’s never easy, but there’s the occasional reward.
The Orioles took advantage of an error to move ahead again in the eighth, Richie Martin provided insurance with a two-run shot off reliever Reymin Guduan in the ninth and the Orioles defeated the Astros 4-1 at Minute Maid Park.
Trey Mancini raced home in the eighth after shortstop Jack Mayfield threw wildly to first base while trying to turn a double play. Martin drove a slider deep to left field after Stevie Wilkerson’s two-out walk for his second home run of the trip.
“We have such a good team,” Martin said. “Think of all the one-run games, close games that could have gone our way. Think we win half of those and we’re right in the mix, so it’s nice to get this one, but hopefully we can come out tomorrow and get another one.”
Castro stranded a runner in the eighth after Fry issued a two-out walk and, with Mychal Givens unavailable and no obvious closer candidates, retired the side in order in the ninth for his second save of the year.
“When you lose a lot of one-run games it can be tough, it can make you pull your hair out,” said Andrew Cashner. “But it was a big job by the bullpen tonight, then Richie putting them away. This win tonight, especially with us having a team gathering tonight, is a big boost for the mood.”
Hanser Alberto led off the eighth inning with a double and Mancini dumped a single into right field. Alberto hesitated and broke for home on Núñez’s grounder to third and was tagged in a rundown. Tony Kemp fielded Pedro Severino’s scorcher on one hop, spun and threw to Mayfield for the force, but the shortstop’s error gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
According to manager Brandon Hyde, Alberto made the right decision to head home.
“It’s a routine double play ball, especially with Noonie running,” Hyde said after the Orioles won in Houston for the first time since June 2015. “What you’d like to have is him stay in the rundown a little bit longer. They executed the rundown perfectly. We didn’t have a ton of speed on the bases behind him. That’s a really tough situation, but a double play with a runner at third and two outs is not ideal, obviously, so it worked out for us.”
Cashner proved again this afternoon beneath a closed roof that executives from contending teams should be open to considering how much muscle he could provide in a playoff push.
Moved back a couple days to rest a sore hip, Cashner held the Astros to one run and four hits through six innings for his sixth quality start of the season. Hyde removed him after 87 pitches.
“The biggest thing was commanding my fastball,” Cashner said. “I thought I had one of the better changeups I had in the last few starts. That’s something I’ve been working on, with hand speed and stuff. I felt like I kept them off-balance, working inside part of the plate, the outside part, and got a lot of ground balls, which is what I was trying to do.”
Cashner carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth when Derek Fisher and Alex Bregman produced back-to-back singles, the latter on a routine ground ball to the right side that found vacant space with the shift. Cashner tilted his head back in frustration. It had double play written all over it.
Michael Brantley bounced back to the mound, with Cashner getting the force at second, and Santander followed by timing his jump perfectly with his catch above the fence.
“We definitely celebrated in here,” Cashner said. “I kept telling myself, ‘Get a double play.’ I just didn’t draw it up that way. It was the play of the game. It went from a bad outing to a good outing. Trey staying on first base, when good teams win you have to have those big plays.”
“Thank God, first and foremost,” Santander said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “As soon as I caught the ball I started thinking that the runner was way ahead of the base, that I had a chance and I made a throw and, thankfully, it was a double play.”
Santander said he’d never made a homer-saving grab before today.
“I think it was going to be a home run,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to time it pretty well and make the catch.”
“Obviously, it’s a huge catch in a big spot,” Hyde said. “How about the throw? A strong and accurate throw from right-center. Their runner did a really nice job of running through the plate and scoring before we got the out at first base and not taking it for granted that he was going to score. So give him credit for that. But Tony made an excellent catch.
“I still haven’t seen a replay of it. I’m in the dugout, which is like a cave here with screens and all kinds of stuff in front of you. But yeah, just a huge catch in a big moment. Tony’s played a good right field the games he’s played. It was huge for us.”
Hyde worried about the state of his bullpen earlier in the day, and Cashner ironed out any complications with an extended stay.
Left-hander Framber Valdez blanked the Orioles on three hits, including two balls that didn’t leave the infield, over the first five innings. He hit Núñez on the right foot in the first inning. Alberto had the only single to touch outfield grass in the third.
Núñez destroyed a two-seamer with one out in the sixth, the ball traveling 413 feet with an exit velocity of 108 mph per Statcast. Núñez has 16 home runs to lead the club.
Cashner couldn’t deliver the shutdown inning, but Santander limited the damage and the Orioles won their second game on the trip.
Hyde said he removed Cashner due to “a little hot spot” on the veteran’s right middle finger.
“It’s doing good,” Cashner said.
Martin continues to play a good shortstop and now he’s showing some pop at the plate.
“I just think he’s seeing more big league pitching and so he’s adjusting as we go,” Hyde said. “Richie’s so fast. He puts the ball in play and something good can happen, and that’s what he did on that infield hit to the right side where he put the ball in play with two strikes. He gets down the line so well. He plays so hard. So I think he’s putting the ball in play more, which I think would really help him.”
Said Martin: “We’ve been working really hard - me, Howie (Clark) and Don (Long) - but I mean, I’ve always been comfortable. It’s just a matter of learning pitchers and teams and knowing yourself and what you need to do at the plate opposed to what other guys are doing.”
The game seems to be slowing down for the Rule 5 rookie.
“Yeah, I think that comes with time, just constantly putting the work in, working with Howie and Don,” he said. “Just taking things slow. I think it’s all internal, how you handle yourself.”