HOUSTON - One question had been answered today before the Orioles took the field. They wouldn’t use 162 different lineups.
But could they win a series for the first time since April 22-24? Could they win back-to-back games for the first time since May 4-6?
Not if they can’t score.
Wade Miley carried a shutout into the seventh inning, the Orioles came up empty after loading the bases with no outs and top prospect Yordan Alvarez hit a two-run homer in his second major league at-bat in the Astros’ 4-0 victory at Minute Maid Park.
The Orioles return home with a 20-45 record after being shut out for the fifth time. They’re off Monday and then host the Blue Jays for three games.
Renato Núñez singled, Pedro Severino walked and Jonathan Villar singled to chase Miley with the Orioles down three runs. Anthony Santander grounded into a force at home against reliever Ryan Pressly, pinch-hitter Rio Ruiz flied to shallow left field and Stevie Wilkerson flied to right.
Pressly entered the game with a 0.93 ERA and 0.724 WHIP in 27 appearances, and he stamped out the Orioles’ best chance at a comeback. They had back-to-back two-out walks in the ninth, but Ruiz bounced to the mound.
Dylan Bundy didn’t allow a hit until Yuli Gurriel’s single with two outs in the fourth, and Alvarez followed with a 413-foot shot to center field for a 2-0 lead. Bundy struck out three batters in the inning on a slider, 93.5 mph fastball and changeup. His changeup to Alvarez left the bat at 106.9 mph per Statcast.
The Astros promoted Alvarez after he slashed .343/.443/.742 and led the minors with 23 home runs, and his introduction in the second inning brought a thunderous ovation.
Alvarez flied to left field, received more applause on his way back to the dugout and whipped the crowd into another frenzy in the fourth.
“Just a little bit not low enough, and that’s a big dude with some long arms that’s got some serious power,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Just waited on it enough. I didn’t think it was a terrible pitch, but he got beat with it.”
Bundy was mixing in his secondary stuff early. Josh Reddick popped up to end the first after seeing a fastball, curve, changeup, fastball, slider and changeup. Bundy allowed two earned runs and three total over six innings, with one walk and six strikeouts, and he’s registered a 3.02 ERA since April.
“I thought Bundy threw the ball very well again,” Hyde said. “His pitch mix, and this has been talked about quite a bit, is just outstanding. His secondary stuff is really good and it’s making his fastball play. And he’s competing. I love the look from him out on the mound, and he’s giving us a chance to win almost every time out. He’s doing a great job.”
Said Bundy: “I thought I used a little bit more of the fastball today, a little bit less of the curveball. I didn’t have a great feel for it today, so I mainly relied on fastball, slider and split or changeup.”
Was the increased fastball usage planned in advance?
“A little bit,” he said, “but I was just reading swings out there, me and Sevie. The fastball up in the zone was playing, and down and away.”
“Today he did great,” Severino said. “He just executes every pitch. We were on the same page all game. Made one mistake today when the guy hit the homer right there because we don’t have to go behind the count away with that. That’s a 6-5, 6-7 guy right there extends to get a homer right there. It was my mistake right there. I mean, he executes every pitch and he does a great job.”
The rotation produced a 3.34 ERA in 35 innings on the trip.
“It was good,” Bundy said. “I thought we were pretty consistent this whole road trip and gave our team a chance to win pretty much every night out.”
To get these types of performances - five straight quality starts - would do wonders for a team that’s been forced to dig deep into its bullpen.
“It would mean everything,” Hyde said. “I love the way our starters are throwing the ball and getting deep in the game. I was really encouraged by our bullpen, especially this series. I thought everybody threw the ball really well. I thought we pitched great this series. I thought it was our best series of the year from a pitching standpoint. It’s very encouraging going forward.”
Richie Martin and Alberto had back-to-back singles with one out in the third, but Mancini grounded into a 5-3 double play and Miley retired eight in a row.
Alberto singled again in the sixth - you can only hope to contain him - but Mancini grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
“A guy like Wade can really locate and he can keep you off the barrel, and when you get in a groundball situation he’s going to throw a cutter down and in to get you to hit a ground ball to (Alex) Bregman. And that’s what we did over and over again,” Hyde said.
“Veteran teams do that as well. It’s not an easy thing to do. I think we were a little over-aggressive with our swings, especially early in the count, instead of trying to push him out over the plate.”
“He got us pretty good,” Severino said. “He’s got stuff. He’s just commanding every pitch. My boy Alberto did a great job just getting an adjustment on him. We tried to get to a 3-2 count every time because he likes to throw a lot close to the zone to swing. He just executes everything and we swing and he gets a great start right there.”
The Astros expanded their lead to 3-0 with an unearned run in the sixth. Martin fielded a routine grounder and pulled Mancini off the bag, Severino bounced a throw into center field on a stolen base and Derek Fisher came home on Reddick’s bloop single into center - a fly ball that Keon Broxton couldn’t run down.
Evan Phillips was charged with a run in the eighth on Gurriel’s sacrifice fly. Alberto, moved to second base following the top half of the inning, couldn’t come up with Reddick’s sharp ground ball after Phillips hit Bregman.
The Orioles stranded two in the ninth and another chance to win a series evaporated.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I think we’re playing better baseball and we’re staying in games and we’re giving our team a chance to win and could go either way,” Bundy said. “One hit or one better pitch and we win the ballgame.”
“We’re really close,” Severino said, “so we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and see what happens.”