One swing didn’t cure all of the Orioles’ woes Thursday afternoon, but it did give them the one thing this reeling team needed most.
Center fielder Adam Jones’ solo homer in the eighth off reliever Chad Qualls gave the Orioles a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros, ending their five-game losing streak and avoiding a four-game sweep on the first stop of a two-city, seven-game road trip.
“I don’t talk about streaks and slumps. What’s it mean tomorrow?” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was ejected following the top of the second inning for arguing balls and strikes. “We will take it. They are a very good team. You’ve got to be on top of things to beat them.”
Jones' blast came after the Orioles forced the Astros to strand five combined base runners in the sixth and seventh innings to keep the game tied. In those two innings, the Astros had seven opportunities to drive in the go-ahead run from third base, but were unsuccessful each time.
Meanwhile, all three of the Orioles’ runs were scored with two outs in the inning.
“We were efficient, our pitching staff was efficient,” Jones said. “They had multiple opportunities. They had men at third base with less than two outs. … It’s a team effort and if you’re efficient and you do what you have to do, handle your own and control what you can control, good things can happen.”
In a tie game, the Orioles issued leadoff walks in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but didn’t allow the Astros to score.
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, who recorded a season-high nine strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings, walked the leadoff man the sixth and seventh, but stranded two runners in scoring position in the sixth.
Right-hander Darren O’Day took over for Chen in the seventh. He inherited runners at second and third with one out and walked pinch hitter Colby Rasmus to load the bases. But O'Day retired the next two batters — George Springer and Jose Altuve — to end the threat.
As for Jones, who has cooled since a fantastic start to the season, his eventual game-winning homer snapped a 20-game homer drought. Jones hadn’t homered since May 11.
Closer Zach Britton, who entered the game with one on and one out in the eighth after O’Day issued a leadoff walk to Evan Gattis on four pitches, notched a five-out save — his longest of the season — for his 14th save of the season.
“We haven’t been playing as well as we can,” said O’Day, who has stranded eight of 10 inherited runners this season. “We know that we’re better than the team that’s been out there. Today we played a pretty tight game. We’re not getting blown out. It’s just the little things you do to win a game in all facets of the game. Getting out of jams is big. It kind of gives you a little momentum surge and Adam had great timing there with that home run.”
The Orioles, who handed back-to-back American League Pitcher of the Month Dallas Keuchel his only loss of the season last week in Baltimore, were able to chase the Astros lefty after six innings and 108 pitches. Keuchel allowed two runs on six hits, struck out seven and walked one.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead just four batters into the game on Chris Davis’ two-out RBI single to right field, a hit he lined just over the head of shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who was playing on the right side of second base as part of a shift.
Davis’ hit scored Manny Machado, who opened the game with a single and stole second.
Catcher Hank Conger tied the game at 1-1 in the third on his third homer of the season, the Astros’ seventh home run of the series.
The Astros took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on the Orioles' latest on-field miscue. The Astros placed runners at second and third with one out when Luis Valbuena lined out to Delmon Young in right field.
Evan Gattis held at third as Young, who leads the AL with eight outfield assists, uncorked a wild throw nowhere near the plate, allowing Gattis to score easily.
The Orioles tied the game in the sixth on Steve Pearce’s RBI single to score Jones. That inning was kept alive when Jones avoided a double play by stopping between first and second to evade Gonzalez’s tag on Davis’ ground ball into the shift. Jones’ delay forced Gonzalez to throw to first just to get one out and allowed Jones to reach second base.
“That was big, him not letting the double play be turned,” Showalter said. “I can’t tell you how many guys we talk about it in the spring a lot, but some guys don’t execute. If he doesn’t stop at second base, we don’t score that other run. Those are the little things baseball players do. Adam is an extremely talented guy, but he’s also a baseball player. He’s a rock.”
In the sixth, Chen put runners at the corners with no outs after issuing a leadoff walk to Springer and a single to Altuve. But Chen tactfully worked his way out of it, inducing a popup in front of the plate from Gattis, and striking out Carter and Valbuena to end the inning.
“The first time with two men on base, I tried to keep the ball down and get some grounders,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “I was happy I was able to get out of that. The second time, I’ve got to say, O’Day did an amazing job. I am just a little upset that I wasn’t able to keep away from walking them or giving up those hits. I didn't execute the pitches well. I am a little upset about that.”
Chen still recorded his sixth quality start in his last eight outings, allowing two runs on five hits. His only two walks were the ones that led off the sixth and seventh innings.