Chris Davis hasn't allowed his post-All-Star break slump sap his sense of humor, so the Orioles slugger could joke about hitting his first home run of the second half Tuesday night — the decisive blow in the Orioles' 4-3 win over the Houston Astros.
“Oh, I'm so happy,” Davis deadpanned. “I can go home and sleep tonight and just eat food again. I don't have to wake up every three hours and cry.”
Davis' two-run homer in the sixth inning — his majors-leading 38th of the season — ended a homerless streak of 43 at-bats that dated back to July 14, the final game before the break. It also turned what could have been a disappointing loss to an Astros team with the worst record in baseball into a much-needed comeback victory.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter gave Davis an extra day off from playing defense following Monday's off day — placing him at designated hitter for the fourth time this season and the first since June 27. The move paid off for Davis, who reached base three times in four plate appearances and hit the game-winning blast into the left-field seats to give him 99 RBIs, tying him with Detroit's Miguel Cabrera for the major league lead.
“We all know how well Chris has hit,” Showalter said. “He's been so consistent. And you look around. Whatever's going on, he's hitting .300 and has almost 100 RBIs, so it's not like a real challenging decision to write his name in the lineup. I wanted to get him off the field for two [days] in a row.”
The Orioles (59-48), losers of five of their past six heading into the night, opened a stretch in which 14 of 17 games come against teams with records below .500. These are games the Orioles need to take advantage of before the regular season takes its final turn into its last six weeks — when all but 10 of the remaining games are against division foes.
Tuesday's win kept the Orioles five games back of the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays, who won their 23rd game in their past 27 games with a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Orioles recorded just three hits on the night, including just two Lucas Harrell, the Astros' replacement starter when Bud Norris was scratched earlier in the afternoon amid chatter that he was about to be traded.
But Harrell (5-11), who leads the AL with 67 walks, issued five of them through 5 1/3 innings Tuesday, and three of those baserunners ended up scoring.
Davis' homer against the right-hander came on a 3-1 fastball at the knees that Davis hit into the opposite way into the left-field stands, also plating Nick Markakis, who drew a leadoff walk.
“It's not like I've felt terrible,” Davis said. “But I've just been way too aggressive and way too aggressive on balls out of the zone. That's something that everybody in our lineup has to realize. Teams aren't just going to go up there and roll the ball the ball up there for us. We're going to have to work for everything we get, and that was my goal today, to kind of be a little bit more patient, and it obviously paid off.”
Davis had struck out looking in his first at-bat of the night, extending his club record of consecutive games with at least one strikeout to 23. He has 40 strikeouts in his past 83 at-bats.
But Tuesday, Davis reached base three times, drawing two walks to go along with his homer.
“I don't think any of us feel like he's on the schneid,” said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who drove in two runs on a two-out single in the fourth. “When you set the standard so high, when you're doing that the first half, you struggle for a week and it's like the biggest deal ever. But from the teammate's perspective, we don't look at it like that.”
Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen (6-3) struck out a season-high nine batters while recording his fourth straight quality start since coming off the disabled list from a left oblique strain on July 10. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings.
Despite Chen's pitch count pushing 100, Showalter allowed him to go out for the eighth. And after striking out All-Star Jason Castro with the potential tying run on first base in the eighth on his 119th pitch of the night — the most he's thrown in a major league start — Chen walked off the field to a standing ovation from the announced 24,904 at Camden Yards.
“You really change the karma of a game a little bit taking out a guy who's pitching that well, so you want to make sure,” Showalter said. “It was tough, but I thought he was carrying his stuff well and he was working on an extra day's rest, too, which was big for me. And he doesn't have that many innings under his belt.”
Chen has allowed three or fewer runs in 11 of his 12 starts this season, nine of them quality starts.
He won despite falling behind 3-0 in ugly fashion when Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar stole home to cap a three-run Houston third inning.
Earlier in the third inning, the Astros (35-70) pieced together four consecutive singles — none of which were very hard hit — capped by Jose Altuve's seeing-eye two-run single past a diving Hardy at shortstop.
Harrell's wildness allowed the Orioles to get back into the game. He walked the bases loaded with two outs in the fourth inning before Hardy slapped a two-run single up the middle, scoring Manny Machado and Davis with the Orioles' first hit of the night.
“Obviously, there wasn't a lot of offense on our end tonight,” Davis said. “I think Harrell did a good job of mixing it up, keeping the ball out of the strike zone for a while. We kind of played right into his hands there for a little bit.”
In the eighth, Orioles reliever Darren O'Day stranded the tying run at second base, inducing an inning-ending fly out to center from pinch hitter Brett Wallace.
Closer Jim Johnson earned his first save in 10 days, needing just 11 pitches to retire the Astros in order in the ninth to record his majors leading 36th save.