Orioles slugger Steve Pearce talks about hitting a two-run homer in the team's 4-3 win over the Houston Astros. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
After losing two straight against the lowly Miami Marlins and a pair of unheralded starters, the Orioles returned home to face one of the toughest left-handers and hottest teams in the game Monday.
They went from blowing what seemed like a plum opportunity to turn this season around to dealing with a challenge that could further derail their hopes for respectability.
And, of course, the Orioles won, a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against a Houston Astros squad that had lost just three times in its past 12 games. They triumphed over lefty Dallas Keuchel, who hadn't been beaten in 2015. And they did it with two, two-run homers against Keuchel, who had served up one longball – to reigning Most Valuable Player Mike Trout – in his nine previous starts.
The Orioles (20-22) didn't have an at-bat with a runner in scoring position. They didn't strand one baserunner. And they won.
That is the essence of these 2015 Orioles. They zig when they are supposed to zag. They win when they are expected to lose and implode when they should absolutely, positively win.
It's possible that when the season is reviewed in October, this weekend's series against the Marlins, who broke an eight-game losing streak by limiting the Orioles to two runs in the final 23 innings of the three-game series, will be considered the low point.
And yet the Orioles rebounded impressively Monday before an announced crowd of 28,909 on a beautiful yet sticky Memorial Day afternoon.
"You never feel good about losing. That's tough. But we bounce back," said first baseman Steve Pearce, whose seventh inning homer against Keuchel essentially won the game. "We didn't let that, losing to a [Miami] team that's struggling, affect us. Today is a new day and Houston is a new series. We took our focus onto them today and we flushed whatever happened in Miami away."
The Orioles sent their most effective pitcher early on this season to the mound Monday.
In typical, 'not-what-you-think' Orioles fashion, the reliable Wei-Yin Chen struggled, giving up a season-worst 11 hits in five innings, leaving the game trailing, 3-2. His big mistakes were a solo homer to George Springer in the third and a bloop, two-run single by Chris Carter in the fifth.
"That ball wasn't really hit that hard but it drops in a bad place for me," Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao of Carter's hit. "All I can do is try to manage the inning, try to manage the damage control."
The Orioles offense that was befuddled by Miami's Dan Haren and Tom Koehler did just enough damage against Keuchel (6-1). Catcher Caleb Joseph hit a two-run homer that barely cleared the left field wall and Pearce ambushed a first-pitch, two-seam fastball from Keuchel in the seventh, drilling it to right-center for his fifth homer of the season.
"I was ready to hit," Pearce said. "He left something up and I put good wood on it. He's a great pitcher. Kept us off-balance all day. So, if you can capitalize on a mistake, that's what you've got to do."
Keuchel, who entered the afternoon with a 1.67 ERA and had allowed more than two runs in just two of nine starts in 2015, had some praise for Pearce.
"Pearce's first-pitch home run, that was impressive, just because nobody really puts a swing on that pitch," said Keuchel, who allowed six hits, one walk and struck out three in eight innings. "I've never seen one this season like that. But you got to give credit to their guys and I just got to do a better job."
Monday's game was sealed by the Orioles' suddenly stout bullpen, which did not allow a baserunner and struck out six in four scoreless innings.
Brad Brach (2-0) threw two perfect innings, rookie Oliver Drake struck out two in one inning in his first appearance at Camden Yards and Zach Britton retired the side in the ninth for his 11th save. The bullpen has allowed just six earned runs over its last 30 1/3 innings (1.78 ERA).
The group has been stabilized by a spate of recent minor league call-ups, including the 28-year-old Drake, a U.S. Naval Academy product who, fittingly, was superb on Memorial Day.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the right-handed Drake is particularly effective against left-handed hitters. And with Brian Matusz having pitched on consecutive days, Drake got the call in the eighth against two left-handers and a switch-hitter. That's a pretty tight spot for a rookie in his second big-league outing.
"I think he's a good matchup against left-handed hitters," Showalter said. "I knew where they were in the lineup."
Just when the season seems like it could start slipping away from the Orioles, the opposite happens.
"We just capitalized on [Keuchel's] mistakes and we hadn't been doing that all year. Hopefully today is the start of something," Pearce said. "We have a good team; we have a good hitting team. We just haven't had consistency all year. Right now is a good time to get hot as any. So hopefully we'll start something."