A day after switching clubhouses following a trade-deadline deal that abruptly placed him in the unfamiliar uniform of a contender, Norris faced his old team and a lineup full of friends suddenly turned into foes.
Norris, making his first start after seven days of rest — which included him being scratched Tuesday amid trade rumors — struck out a season-high eight batters and overcame a pair of solo homers. He allowed two runs on four hits over six innings.
“He was good,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Probably a lot of emotion there. He wants to funnel that. He wants to start well, facing people he knows. I thought he handled it well. … He's going to get the ball and hopefully can help us get where we want to get. We gave up some good people for him, and we think we got somebody back good.”
After his outing, Norris (7-9) was unofficially welcomed to his new team by getting a celebratory shaving-cream pie to the face — an Orioles rite of passage — during his postgame television interview, delivered by Adam Jones and Alexi Casilla.
“I hadn't had one before, it was the first one of my career,” Norris said. “You see it all the time on the highlight reel, and I had a feeling it might come. I'm pretty excited to take it. It was exhilarating.”
With the win, the Orioles (60-49) remained 5 1/2 games back of the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox, who scored six ninth-inning runs to beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-7n.
The Orioles — who recorded 15 total hits over the previous three games — rattled off double-digit hits (11) for the first time in nine games.
“Any time you've got a guy like Bud out there who's competing and really keeping us in the game, you want to put some runs on the board,” said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who hit his majors-leading 39th homer of the season. “We were able to hang in and get a couple of runs and then pile on a few later, which was huge. Bud did a great job tonight. We obviously expect big things out of him and he didn't disappoint.”
Norris admitted it was awkward pitching against his former team the day after he was traded. He was a product of the Astros farm system and had emerged as the club's ace. For the most part, he said he stayed focused on each pitch as it came, but in the middle of his outing, he caught himself looking into the Astros dugout.
“I said, ‘Let's not do that again,' Norris said. “So I just stayed on the glove and really just wanted to keep pounding the strike zone.
“Those guys know me pretty well. They know my reports. They know what I like to do in certain counts and situations, so it was a little bit more of a challenge mentally, but I just stuck with [catcher] Matt [Wieters] for the most part and things worked out.”
The Orioles pieced together three runs in the fifth inning against Houston starter Jordan Lyles (4-5) to give Norris a 3-2 lead. The rally was fueled by an error by Houston shortstop Jonathan Villar on a grounder from Brian Roberts that put runners at first and third after Henry Urrutia's one-out single.
Nate McLouth and Manny Machado followed with back-to-back run-scoring singles, and Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly to left gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead.
The Orioles' first 10 hits were singles, until Davis crushed a solo shot to right in the seventh inning. Davis' homer, which came in on a 2-1 changeup from left-handed reliever Travis Blackley, gave him 100 RBIs on the season, the first 100-RBI season for an Oriole since Nick Markakis drove in 101 in 2009.
Norris allowed solo homers to Brett Wallace and Marc Krauss. Twelve of the 13 homers Norris has allowed on the season have been to left-handed hitters, including both Thursday night.
But after Krauss' solo homer with two outs in the fourth inning, Norris retired the seven of the final eight batters he faced, including back-to-back strikeouts of Chris Carter and Wallace to end the sixth.
Norris worked his fastball along both sides of the plate and was able to mix in his off-speed pitches and lean on his slider when behind in the count.
“He was typical Bud Norris,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “Great command. Pitched to both sides of the plate. I thought he did a really good job of throwing some good sliders in some hitters' counts and kind of took advantage of a little bit of over-aggressiveness by some of our guys.”
Wieters was also impressed.
“There weren't many shake-offs at all tonight,” he said. “It's something where he had command of everything, so it makes it easier for a catcher. Anytime you can throw offspeed when you're in fastball counts, it's going to make it easier.”
Thursday was just the fourth time in 22 starts this season that Norris received at least four runs of support while he was in the game. He is 4-0 in those games and 3-9 in the other 18 starts.
“These guys got a great club over here,” Norris said. “Just want to bring my part to the table. These guys are focused on winning so I'm focused on winning.”
The Orioles bullpen allowed one run over three innings of work. Closer Jim Johnson put two baserunners on with one out in the ninth — bringing the tying run to the plate twice — but he escaped with a scoreless frame for his majors-leading 37th save.
L.J. Hoes, the former Orioles farmhand traded Wednesday as part of the deal for Norris, recorded his first major league hit with a third-inning single against the right-hander.