Some of the Orioles’ offensive woes this month are rooted in the fact that opponents are refusing to give the power bats anything to hit early in counts, instead opting to tempt their aggressiveness with off-speed pitches and balls out of the strike zone.
And Chris Davis has been the poster boy for the team’s struggles, admitting after Tuesday night’s frustrating loss to the Houston Astros that he needs to be more selective at the plate.
One day later, Davis responded with his first multi-homer game of the season, hitting a pair of homers in the Orioles’ 5-4 win over the Astros on Wednesday, including a game-winning solo blast in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Even though the Orioles (21-23) have spent the season’s first two months muddling through mediocrity, they took two of three from the Astros, handing the team with the American League's best record its first road series loss of the season.
Davis’ game-winning blast came off Houston left-hander Tony Sipp, who had allowed just two earned runs in 17 relief innings this season. Davis jumped on a first-pitch 92-mph fastball, sending it 10 rows deep into the right-center-field bleachers for his team-high 10th homer of the season and just his second against a left-hander.
“Thought I did a better job of making an adjustment and making him throw it in the zone,” said Davis, who recorded his eighth career multi-homer game. “That’s big not just for me, but for everyone in the lineup. I think the reputation on this team is out. A lot of teams are changing speed earlier in the count and trying to get us to chase.”
Davis’ homer came after the Astros rallied for three runs in the seventh against Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez in an inning that was capped by Evan Gattis’ game-tying two-run homer with two outs in the inning.
The Orioles entered the fourth having scored just seven runs over their previous 44 innings, but then caused chaos on the bases and hit back-to-back homers in a four-run inning against Astros starter Collin McHugh.
The first five Orioles batters in the fourth reached base and the first four scored. Jimmy Paredes’ leadoff double was followed by Adam Jones’ bunt single, placing runners at the corners with no outs.
With Davis at the plate, the Orioles then scored on a well-executed double steal. With Jones breaking for second and drawing a throw, Paredes took off for home and slid headfirst under catcher Jason Castro’s tag. It was the Orioles’ first steal of home since Aug. 28, 2014, when Jones did it against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I know we scored a run,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That's always exciting, no matter how many runs you've been scoring. I'd like to think other things would have happened afterward if we hadn't. Our two players, Adam and Jimmy, executed the play perfectly. Hats off to them. That's how it all came about, because they executed it perfectly.”
The double steal seemed to fuel the Orioles. Davis then ended his at-bat with a two-run homer onto the right-field flag court. His ninth homer of the season and first since May 11 came on a full-count pitch.
Three pitches later, Steve Pearce jumped on a 1-1 looping curveball, hitting it into the left-field stands, marking the first time the Orioles hit back-to-back homers since Sept. 25, 2014 (Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza). That gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead.
Davis said he felt the game turn after Paredes stole home on the double steal.
“That’s just little things like that can put the momentum back in the team’s dugout,” he said.
Jimenez allowed just one run over his first six innings, working quickly and efficiently to keep his pitch count down, and was one step away from getting out of the seventh unharmed.
But after George Springer and Jose Altuve hit back-to-back one-out singles, Preston Tucker just beat out a double-play ball that was slow to develop because of a shift, allowing Springer to score from third. Three pitches later, Gattis crushed a 1-1 delivery from Jimenez into the Orioles bullpen beyond the left-center-field fence.
Jimenez allowed 10 hits and walked one over seven innings, but stranded seven Astros base runners, leaving the bases loaded in the sixth.
“They have a really good lineup, but they're pretty aggressive,” Jimenez said. “You have to make pitches down [or] they're going to be swinging right away. ... It wasn't easy. Those guys would swing right away, especially when I fall behind in the count. I think I made good pitches.”
Brad Brach (3-0), who has allowed just one run over his last six outings spanning nine innings, pitched a scoreless eighth in a tie game to earn the win.
“It’s awesome,” Brach said. “It’s what every reliever wants. They want to be in the eighth, ninth inning in a close game. Definitely, it was a great feeling and hopefully I can continue to keep doing that.”
Left-hander Zach Britton put the tying run on second base in the ninth, allowing a two-out double to Altuve. But David Lough made a running catch on Tucker’s line drive to the left-field warning track to end the game, giving Britton his 12th save.