HOUSTON – It's difficult for a baseball franchise that's been around since 1954 to establish a first in 2013.
The Orioles accomplished that in Thursday afternoon's 3-1 victory against the Houston Astros by sticking to the formula that has kept them in the American League East hunt for more than a year: Capture individual series and the wins will be there at the end of the season.
By beating the Astros in two of three at Minute Maid Park this week, the Orioles, for the first time in their existence, won a season series in Houston. The snippet of history could use an asterisk, though. This was just the second time the Orioles have ever played in Houston — which switched leagues this season — after being swept in interleague play in 2003.
The Orioles' blueprint for success, however, remains the same. They've now won 13 (and tied two) of their first 20 series of 2013, which includes a 6-2-2- mark in road series.
"It's a long season, so that's the goal, to win series," said J.J., Hardy, who had four of the Orioles' 11 hits Thursday. "And it's nice to do it on the road."
With the victory, the Orioles (34-26) again have tied a season-high by being eight games over .500 while improving to 19-13 away from Camden Yards.
Thursday's game was paced by right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (3-2), who hadn't picked up a win since April 23 and hadn't won on the road since the first series of the season at Tampa Bay.
"It is [a relief]. I am happy," said Gonzalez, who allowed just one run on five hits and an intentional walk while tying a season-high with seven strikeouts in six innings. "Sometimes you're going to have good luck and there are some times you're going to have bad luck. It's part of baseball, but I had a good feel with the baseball."
Gonzalez was coming off the worst statistical start of his season — a season-high five earned runs allowed against the Detroit Tigers on Friday. Take away that game and Gonzalez has allowed just four earned runs in 18 2/3 innings (1.93 ERA) since coming off the disabled list May 21.
"Good, got better as the game went on," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Gonzalez. "He was solid. He had an extra days' rest, and he usually gives us a pretty good outing after that."
The only real concern with Gonzalez's outing occurred in his final inning when he took a sharp comebacker off the bottom of his left forearm. He stayed in the game, recorded the next out and finished the outing with 95 pitches, 66 for strikes.
"Took a pretty good hop, got a pretty good welt right there," Showalter said. "Was going to get him out of there anyway."
After the game, Gonzalez's left arm was bandaged.
"It's a little bit bruised, but we'll take it day-by-day and see what happens," he said. "I think it's fine, It hit the muscle right on the forearm. No worries."
Gonzalez allowed the first batter he faced, Brandon Barnes, to score. Barnes singled, moved to third on Jason Castro's double and scored on J.D. Martinez's sacrifice fly. Gonzalez then cruised for most of the day. He ran into some trouble in the third when he had a runner on third with one out, but a strikeout and comebacker ended the threat.
Hardy's RBI single in a three-run fourth gave the Orioles a lead they never lost. The shortstop was 9-for-13 in the three-game series and is batting .579 during his five-game hitting streak. He's also raised his season average to.266 after batting just .202 in April.
"J.J. is steady. He likes to win," Showalter said. "And he's at a stage in his career where he's established himself as a quality shortstop and, very quietly, he doesn't tolerate the things that aren't conducive to winning. Especially from himself."
Adam Jones also had an RBI double in the third inning, and the other run was scored thanks to the legs of Chris Dickerson and some questionable defense by the Astros.
With one out and Hardy on first, Dickerson grounded to short but beat out the potential inning-ending double play. He then went from first to third when Ryan Flaherty's infield hit toward shortstop bounced off diving third baseman Matt Dominguez's glove and ended up in shallow left.
"It's an instinctual play. The first thing you do when you get on base is assess where everybody is," Dickerson said. "You're busting your butt to get to second, so you're already at full speed and it's going to be really difficult for anybody to sprint after the ball, make a 360 and make an accurate throw to first. So you've got to take advantage of that."
During the next at-bat, Flaherty attempted to steal second — and would have been caught in a rundown for the final out — but with Dickerson feigning slightly down the line, second baseman Marwin Gonzalez threw to third. Dickerson was easily safe, and Flaherty completed the steal. Dickerson then scored on a wild pitch by Bud Norris (5-5).
Norris, who has been the subject of trade rumors for months, pitched well, striking out seven and allowing three earned runs on nine hits and a walk.
But with Gonzalez and three relievers shutting down the Astros offense, the Orioles secured their 11th win in the past 16 games and their seventh of eight against Houston dating back to 2005.
"Anytime you get six or seven innings out of your starter it is a good day, and then we get to the bullpen and we all know that story," Dickerson said. "It was one of those games we had to grind out. … We did some little things necessary and got some breaks to go our way. It was a good win."