How the Orioles responded to last night’s thrashing at the hands and bats of the Astros provided the most intriguing element of the day. Get back on their feet and hold their ground or be knocked down again. Heads held high or chins pressed into their chests.
Could they return to playing competitive baseball, a trait that’s been harder to sustain this month? Could they close out the homestand on a positive note before wading deeper into a treacherous portion of their schedule?
Rio Ruiz provided the definitiive answer, hitting a two-run walk-off homer against Astros closer Roberto Osuna with two outs in the ninth for an 8-7 win at Camden Yards.
It was Ruiz’s first career walk-off homer and only the second in the ballpark’s history to land on Eutaw St., the other by Luke Scott on July 19, 2008 versus the Tigers.
Ruiz’s timing was impeccible.
Jace Peterson’s run-scoring double off Justin Verlander in the first inning provided a lead and a glimmer of hope and he tied the game in the fifth with a triple and scored the go-ahead run on Hanser Alberto’s sacrifice fly. The Orioles were three outs away from avoiding the sweep when the Astros rallied in the ninth against Mychal Givens and appeared to be headed toward another loss.
The count was 2-2 when Ruiz hit his second homer in less than 24 hours. Today marked his first appearance in the lineup since the Orioles optioned him on July 24.
What was Ruiz looking for from Osuna?
“Something middle,” he replied. “Just trying to put the bat on the ball. ... Just trying to get a knock and it happened to go out.”
With room to spare.
“It was a fun way to win a game, a fun way to get out of the homestand.” said Peterson, whose third hit, a leadoff double, started the rally. “Obviously this homestand didn’t go as we wanted it to (but) to leave here with a win like that over a team like that, we’re very happy for Rio. He’s a great ballplayer and came up big for us in that situation.
“This is what we have to do. We have to come out and play ball every day and try to compete and win games. That’s what we’re here to do and we showed that today. it was a good day and a good way to end the homestand.”
The game, played before an announced crowd of 17,979, included Trey Mancini’s run-scoring single off Chris Devenski in the sixth and a wasted bases-loaded opportunity in the eighth, but the Orioles are 39-78 overall and went 3-7 on the homestand with a doubleheader awaiting them Monday in the Bronx.
Chris Davis struck out in his first four at-bats before a sacrifice fly off Osuna in the ninth sliced the Astros lead to one. Chance Sisco was nailed by a pitch before the at-bat. Ruiz inflicted the most pain.
Givens stranded the tying run at second base in the eighth while attempting the four-out save. George Springer led off the ninth with a single, Jose Altuve beat out a bunt single and both runners scored on Michael Brantley’s triple into the right field corner. Brantley kept motoring as Anthony Santander, who moved over from center before the inning, lost control of the ball while trying to throw it.
A 5-4 lead became a 7-5 deficit and the Orioles were being fed their latest frustration. But at least they were competitive.
In the end, the also were victorious.
“It’s a roller coaster,” Peterson said. “That’s baseball. You’ve got to kind of try to stay as even keel as you can, not get too high, not get too low. They went up two right there and we were able to battle back in the ninth, kept fighting to the last out and came up with a victory.”
“We had some miscues late,” said manager Brandon Hyde, “but I thought we played a great game. We faced Justin Verlander and they punched out a bunch. I thought a bunch of guys took great at-bats off a premier pitcher, got his pitch count up. Jonny Villar, Trey Mancini, these guys took really, really good at-bats off him.”
What’s running through Hyde’s mind during Ruiz’s at-bat?
“I’m hoping he hangs one,” Hyde said.
“I thought Rio had good swings off him. I thought Rio had good swings all day. He got a pitch up a little bit and drilled it. Definitely feels good after what happened there in the top of the ninth inning. It was just a huge hit for us.”
Ruiz couldn’t describe exactly what he felt as he flipped the bat and looked into the Orioles dugout, the ball disappearing over the flag court.
“If I knew I’d tell you,” he said. “Kind of just everything was in the moment. I knew that I got it. I kind of looked in the dugout, saw everybody going crazy and I went crazy. Pretty awesome feeling.”
Maybe the birth of his son, Luca James, is tied to Ruiz’s resurgence. The baby should get at least some of the credit.
“(Darn) right he does,” Ruiz said, smiling. “He gets all the credit, he gets all the credit.”
Givens had a 1.12 ERA in the eighth inning before today and he’s surrendered 21 runs in 25 1/3 innings in the ninth for a 7.47 ERA. But he was spared the loss.
“I think you’ve seen us deal with adversity a lot of the year and we’ve given up a lot of leads,” Hyde said. “The next day we usually play OK and come back from it. It hurts to give up a lead in the ninth inning and it hurts to possibly lose a game you deserve to win because some of the guys did so many good things today. For the lead to go away, it was a tough pill to swallow there, but Rio picked us up.
“Jace Peterson got it going with a big double down the line. I’d rather he not tag up and score there. That scared the heck out of me. Chance gets hit and then Rio with the big hit.
Mancini also had an RBI single in the second inning, which ended with Verlander at 53 pitches and the Orioles behind 3-2. Verlander got a called third strike on Davis to strand two runners in the third and push his count to 73 and it reached 109 after the fifth.
Verlander allowed a season-high nine hits and struck out 10 batters, reaching double digits for the eighth time this season and fifth consecutive game, which ties the club record shared by J.R. Richard (1980) and Randy Johnson (1998).
Carlos Correa hit a 474-foot home run last night in a 23-2 win and he delivered a three-run shot today off Asher Wojciechowski in the second inning, an 81 mph curveball traveling 426 feet per Statcast and landing in the visiting bullpen for a 3-1 lead.
Wojciechowski retired the side in order in the first on 11 pitches, but threw 24 in the second. He issued a leadoff walk to Alex Bregman and allowed a soft single to Yordan Alvarez, setting up Correa for the big blow.
One that didn’t break Wojciechowski, who allowed three runs and four hits in six innings. He struck out Robinson Chirinos on his 103rd pitch to strand a runner in the sixth.
“I was satisfied with that outing,” Wojciechowski said. “Hung a slider to Correa and gave up a three-run homer with it, but settled down after that and executed pitches well.”
The bullpen couldn’t hold up, but the Orioles improved to 5-14 on Sunday. They were outscored 65-24 in the last six games.
The solution isn’t complicated, but it’s hard to execute.
Pitch better or keep losing by large margins.
Wojciechowski standed a runner in the third and fourth, two in the fifth after Mancini’s running and sliding catch in the gap to deny Bregman and one more in the sixth. He provided length that the Orioles so desperately sought.
Aaron Brooks allowed nine runs and nine hits last night in three innings and he surrendered four homers. His ERA jumped to 9.41 in six starts with the Orioles.
Branden Kline gave up five runs in two innings and he’s carrying a 7.39 ERA in 24 games. Tayler Scott was tagged for six runs in two innings and he’s sporting a 25.41 ERA in only five appearances with the Orioles, with 16 runs and 14 hits crammed into 5 2/3 innings. He’s surrendered five home runs.
Gabriel Ynoa starts Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader against the first-place Yankees and he’s 1-6 with a 5.57 ERA and 1.395 WHIP in 25 appearances.
Orioles pitchers began the day with a collective 5.81 ERA and 1.48 WHIP that ranked last in the majors. The .273 average-against was tied for worst in the American League. The 240 home runs allowed fell only 18 short of the record held by the 2016 Reds, and Correa inched them close by supplying No. 241.
“For me, what I see is confidence and command it’s usually not stuff related,” Hyde said. “It’s having the ability to repeat a delivery, it’s the ability to locate a fastball, have secondary stuff that you can throw behind in the count for strikes.
“Obviously we have a long way to go pitching-wise and that will change over the next couple of years.”
The younger pitchers know a poor outing can punch their ticket back down to Triple-A Norfolk. They have to clear their minds while trying to post a clean line.
“That’s realistic, there’s no doubt about it, and I think that’s not easy to do,” Hyde said. “That’s just being a human being. You’re worried about your job, worried about, ‘I don’t want to get sent back down.’ I feel for those guys. Listen, it’s not easy to have success up here anyway. It’s not easy to face these lineups that we’re facing. And then when you have things like that in the back of your mind and you look up at the board and you have a 7 1/2 ERA, it’s really, really challenging.
“Our job is to try to give them as much confidence as possible and give them a game plan they can hopefully follow and stand behind it. I think we’ve done that, but we just don’t have a whole lot of really good pitching numbers.”
Correa’s home run in the second left the Orioles one shy of tying the club and American League records of 242 set in 2017.
Correa singled off Miguel Castro leading off the eighth and moved to second on a wild pitch. Givens replaced him with two outs and struck out Josh Reddick.
The Orioles loaded the bases against Joe Biagini with one out in the eighth. A big tack-on run eluded them, with Santander flying to shallow center and Pedro Severino grounding into a force after almost hitting a grand slam.
In the end, being more competitive wasn’t the only response from the Orioles.
“I think yesterday kind of summed up the week, but then we came back here and pulled out the W,” Ruiz said. “Wojo did a hell of a job there. Our bullpen did a hell of a job there. And it was unfortunate with Brantley, he is an All-Star hitter right there, an All-Star player and he put a bat on the ball and found a hole and put them ahead. But big sac fly by CD right there to give us a chance to do something.”
“A game like last night, it’s tough for everyone,” Wojciechowski said, “so to come out today and get a W was huge. Just going into this next series with a little momentum and hopefully we can get on a good roll.”
Said Hyde: “I think it’s been a tough week, so it feels pretty good after a really tough, tough week. Now, we go on the road and have another tough week, play two really good teams on the road in our division. That’s a lot better than losing.”
Note: The Orioles optioned Scott to Triple-A Norfolk after the game. They have an opening on the roster that can be filled by left-hander Ty Blach, though other moves might be in the works.