HOUSTON — Buck Showalter rarely admits to having any frustration inside his clubhouse, but after the Orioles' offense went absent for a second straight night a 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Friday night, Showalter couldn’t deny that his team is pressing.
On back-to-back nights, the Orioles have wasted strong starting pitching performances, plating just one run in each contest, compounding a May skid that has put them below .500 for the first time since April 22 and tied a season high with four straight losses.
“That’s a good way to put it,” Showalter said when asked whether his club is frustrated. “We know we’re capable of better. I’m going to continue to give the other team credit, but we’ve beat some good pitchers, too. It’s a combination of them playing well and us not doing what we’re capable of doing.”
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez held the Astros hitless for 5 1/3 innings and recorded his fourth straight quality start, but got little run support before an announced 38,482 at Minute Maid Park. Gonzalez’s performance came one night after right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez held Houston to one run on three hits over six innings in a 3-1 loss.
It "definitely makes it worse, because they are pitching great,” left fielder Steve Pearce said. “They are pitching their butts off. And when our pitchers go out there and do that to leave with an L or a no-decision is unacceptable. We don’t like it. We need to pick it up.”
The Orioles, who have lost 13 of their past 19 games, are 8-19 when scoring three or fewer runs. They are 18-8, meanwhile, when plating four or more. Two games into their four-game series here, they have scored twice. Over their past three games, they’ve scored just five runs. Friday marked the ninth time in 53 games they’ve scored one run or less.
After J.J. Hardy’s second-inning RBI single gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead with one out in the second inning, they managed just three singles and a walk over the rest of the game.
“There's no excuses," center fielder Adam Jones said. “We've just got to swing the bats better, piggyback each other. Just got to find a way. … Right now, it's not dropping for us, but today's over with, so tomorrow, we're just going to come out and bring our attitude. We might amp it up in here. Might bring a live chicken. I don't know. Might do something to change it up a little bit around this place."
The loss gave the Orioles (26-27) a losing record for the first time this late in the season since the end of the 2011 season. The Astros have won seven straight.
The Orioles, who wore throwback uniforms of the Negro league Baltimore Elite Giants as part of the annual Civil Rights Game, couldn't do much against Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, scoring just one run off the Astros starter in seven innings.
After fouling off a pitch into his groin area, Jones led off the second inning with a stand-up double to left. He scored two batters later on J.J. Hardy’s one-out single to left.
But after Hardy’s hit, the Orioles managed just two singles off Oberholtzer and didn’t reach second base again against him. Oberholtzer (2-6) was making his second start since returning from Triple-A on May 24. He made the Astros’ Opening Day rotation but was sent to the minors after opening the season 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA.
In two outings against the Orioles — he threw seven shutout innings in Baltimore last July 31 — Oberholtzer has allowed one run in 14 innings.
After going down 2-1, the Orioles got two runners on with two outs in the eighth after a walk to Joseph and a single by Markakis, but Pearce flied out to left to end the threat.
“We're just trying to do too much individually rather than pass the baton and let the guy behind you do it,” Jones said. “Our lineup is really, really strong. Without us getting on base, we kind of limit ourselves, and we're guys who drive runs in.
“We've just got to get some guys on base and string some hits together because when we put runners on base, we tend to score,” Jones added. “But right now, we haven't really strung two or three or four hits together and it's shown. So we just need to regroup and pass the baton."
Gonzalez (3-4) held the Astros scoreless until he yielded two runs with two outs in the seventh. He allowed just five hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out four and walking two.
For his fifth straight start, he went six or more innings and allowed two or fewer runs.
“He deserved a much better fate,” Showalter said. “Over the course of the season, [if] he has those outings, he’s going to win a lot of baseball games for us. It kind of sticks in everybody’s craw because you know he deserved to win that ballgame, but you can say the same thing about their starter, too.”
Gonzalez allowed just two base runners over his first 5 1/3 innings of work — he walked No. 9 hitter Jonathan Villar with two outs in the third and hit Jason Castro with a pitch with two down in the fourth — before allowing a base hit in the sixth.
He retired 11 of the first 12 Astros batters he faced, allowing just one ball out of the infield over that span.
Astros leadoff hitter Jose Altuve broke Gonzalez’s no-hit bid by beating out a slow infield single to Hardy at shortstop. The play was close, but the speedy Altuve just beat Hardy’s throw to first.
Steve Pearce helped keep the Astros hitless with a nice diving play in the left-center-field gap on a sinking line drive by Matt Dominguez that ended the fourth inning and stranded a runner at second base.
But Gonzalez allowed a leadoff double to Dominguez in the seventh. After striking out Chris Carter, Alex Presley singled to right, and while Dominguez held at third on Nick Markakis’ throw home, catcher Caleb Joseph threw Presley out at second for the second out of the inning.
Robbie Grossman, who entered the game hitting .141, then doubled over Pearce’s head to tie the game. Villar, a .196 hitter coming into the night, gave the Astros (24-32) the lead with a ground-rule double that one-hopped over the right-center-field fence, chasing Gonzalez from the game.
“I was rushing a little bit, but I thought I made my pitches I needed to,” Gonzalez said. “They just capitalized and sat on my fastball. You’ve just got to work a little more and try to make a little more pitches toward the end.”