HOUSTON — On Wednesday morning, eight Orioles took a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA's renowned Johnson Space Center.
Four innings into Wednesday night's 11-7 loss to the Houston Astros, the entire Orioles team witnessed a launching pad. Six Astros homered in the first four innings against Orioles pitchers Freddy Garcia (2-3) and Steve Johnson — setting an Astros season-high in homers and a season-worst for long balls allowed by the Orioles this season.
"A bad day to pitch, I guess," said Garcia, who allowed more homers (four) in three-plus innings than in his previous three starts combined. "I don't think I made any good pitches. I got my [butt] kicked tonight."
With one on and one out in the first, Houston catcher Jason Castro homered off Garcia, Castro's eighth of the season. Three batters later, Carlos Pena hit a two-run shot to give the Astros a 4-1 lead.
In the second inning, Marwin Gonzalez hit a one-out solo blast — the third homer Garcia had served up in 34 pitches.
"A team like this, any team for that matter, you make those mistakes you are going to pay," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
After a souvenir-free third, Matt Dominguez homered to lead off the fourth and chase Garcia from the game. The Orioles' 36-year-old right-hander had allowed just four earned runs in his past three starts, spanning 19 innings. On Wednesday, he gave up seven hits, two walks, six earned runs and four homers without recording an out in the fourth.
"They were swinging at every pitch ... and they made contact with them," Garcia said. "And in this ballpark, when the roof's closed, the ball flies. But four home runs is four home runs."
It was just the second time in 366 major league appearances that Garcia had allowed four homers in one game. Coming off eight innings of shutout ball last week against the Nationals, Garcia turned in his shortest start in seven games for the Orioles.
Garcia's rough outing led to just the fifth loss in 15 games for the Orioles (33-26), who were trying to get to nine games over .500 for the first time in 2013. It also ended their seven-game winning streak against Houston, which dates to 2005.
The Astros (22-38) weren't done with their laser show after Garcia left.
Johnson struck out the first two batters he faced before serving up a home run to Jose Altuve, walking Castro and yielding the sixth homer in 22 Houston batters to J.D.Martinez.
Johnson lasted 21/3 innings, but said after the game that he had felt soreness in his left oblique while warming up.
"I was hoping to battle through it. Sometimes it gets better the more loose it gets, but it was bothering me a little bit," said Johnson, who allowed three earned runs and struck out five. "I just tried to battle through it and go as long as I could."
Johnson will be re-evaluated today and is hoping it's minor and not an oblique strain — which often necessitates a stint on the disabled list. He missed the beginning of the season with a lat strain.
"We are going to ice it and treat it a little bit. See how it feels [Thursday]," he said. "I really don't know. It's on my left side, just kind of seems to be one thing after another now. But it has nothing to do with my lat."
Catcher Matt Wieters said Johnson was missing with his outside pitches, and he knew something was wrong.
"In the second inning I could tell something wasn't quite right. That's why I went out there a couple times to make sure we didn't do any more damage to it," Wieters said. "Steve's a location guy, and he was having a little trouble getting the ball glove side, which you could tell he might have been favoring something a little bit."
The Orioles hadn't allowed six home runs in a game since July 7, 2011 against the Boston Red Sox. This time it was against a team that entered the night 11th in the American League in homers and a lineup that didn't include the club's best longball threat, Chris Carter.
There were no Houston homers after the fourth — though Dominguez missed another one by a few feet in the seventh and settled for a two-run double — but every Astros starter had at least one hit and eight of the nine batters scored a run.
The Orioles actually got on the board first when Nate McLouth led off the game with a double against lefty Dallas Keuchel and scored on a single by J.J. Hardy. That was the only run yielded by Keuchel (3-2), who gave up five hits and two walks in six innings.
The Orioles mounted a couple of mini-rallies in the later innings. They scored three times in the seventh, which included an RBI triple by Alexi Casilla and Hardy's 13th homer of the year. Wieters added his eighth homer, a two-run blast, in a three-run eighth.
Despite being down eight runs in the fourth, the Orioles had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the eighth before Houston reliever Hector Ambriz got Hardy to ground into a bases-loaded double play to end the inning.
"We gave a run there at the end," Wieters said. "It would have been nice to come back and get that one, but we've got to win the series [Thursday] and we'll come in here ready to go."