Welington Castillo's towering fifth-inning grand slam Wednesday night packed a lot of meaning for a reeling Orioles team that had lost six consecutive games overall, 11 straight on the road and had fallen a game below .500 for the first time since 2015.
It came on a night when the Orioles finally cashed in on some early-inning chances; when their top starter, Dylan Bundy, overcame a shaky start to pitch deep enough for the win; and when their skid had lasted long enough that they started to wonder if — not when — it would end.
"There was some of that — not, ‘Here we go,’ but you think you’re having Groundhog Day there for a little while," manager Buck Showalter said. "But guys just refused to give in. It’s been a tough stretch for us."
Said Castillo: "We have a great ballclub and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing today. Keep swinging the bats and hopefully the pitching stops the other offense. That is going to come. We are not too worried about it. It’s a long season and we have a great team. At some point we are going to do what we know to do.”
With the win, the Orioles pulled back to .500 (32-32) and gave themselves a chance to salvage a series split in Chicago with a win in Thursday’s matinee.
Castillo capitalizes: Staked to a 5-1 lead thanks to some mistakes by both Bundy and the Orioles defense behind him, Miguel Gonzalez simply gave the Orioles too many chances to break out of their recent inability to put together a big inning.
They loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning, and did so again with two outs in the fifth inning. Both times, it was designated hitter Mark Trumbo, first baseman Trey Mancini and second baseman Jonathan Schoop who reached in order.
In the fourth inning, a run came in on a fielder’s choice by Castillo, then two more on a two-out single by left fielder Hyun Soo Kim before Castillo was caught in a rundown to end the inning.
An inning later, Castillo came up with three on again and hit his first career grand slam to center field to put the Orioles ahead 8-5, a lead they never relinquished.
"Honestly, I like that situation," Castillo said. "I had that situation earlier. I am that kind of guy that likes that situation because I am not afraid to fail. This game is about making adjustments. I wanted to be the guy and he left me a fastball out over [the plate] and I put a good swing on it.”
Bundy battles: Bundy ended up giving the Orioles a hole to climb out of, just like so many of the team’s starting pitchers who preceded him, but was allowed to stay in the game after the White Sox managed five runs off him in the first two innings to give them five innings of work.
Even after a 90-minute rain delay that kept him waiting to get ready, Bundy featured one of his best fastballs of the season. It averaged 93 mph and topped out at 96 mph, but even with that it was a shaky beginning. He settled in, though, to yield just one hit in his final three innings.
The difference, Bundy said, was he spent the first two innings throwing and the last three pitching.
"He’s done that before, where you better get him [early]," Showalter said. "Probably his last inning was his best. He never really got in sync with a release point. You could tell he was a little out of sorts a little bit, but that’s why you like to see a guy like him. There’s a good feeling when he’s out there pitching, because they know he’s not going to ever give in. They kind of mirror his effort."
Bundy allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits in five innings with three walks and four strikeouts to improve his record to 7-5.
Split start for Schoop: Schoop was involved in everything over the first few innings of the game — and not all of it good.
He was shifted behind second base with a man on first and two outs in the first inning and couldn’t chase down a ball deep in the first base hole. Two batters later, the White Sox went up 2-0 with a bases-loaded single by shortstop Tim Anderson.
He doubled home their first run of the game in the second inning, but helped give it back and then some in the home half. After a double to right field by left fielder Melky Cabrera, Schoop caught the relay throw and fired to third base to try and catch the runner on his way back. The ball ended up in the photo well, allowing a run to score on an error, and the White Sox ended that inning with a 5-1 lead.
Showalter said the ball was wet on the throw in the second inning, and Schoop's frustration was more with the first-inning play. But the manager thought the biggest at-bat of the game was in the fifth inning, when Schoop went down 0-2 and worked a two out walk to load the bases and set up Castillo's grand slam.
"That’s something we’ve seen a lot this year that we haven’t seen a lot in the past with Jon that makes it seem like he’s graduating to another level," Showalter said. "The walks are there, and it’s a confidence thing, too, where he doesn’t feel like he’s got to go out of the zone to do things. Those are disciplined at-bats."
He finished with two hits, a walk and two runs scored.
Big in the middle: Schoop’s day was bested only by rookie Mancini, who scored three times while going 3-for-4 with a double.
Trumbo, Mancini and Schoop will likely be entrenched in the 4-5-6 spots in the lineup without first baseman Chris Davis, and if Wednesday is any indication, they feed off one another quite well.
The trio combined for seven hits and scored seven of the team’s nine runs.
It’s not exactly the one-inning power-reliever role some envision for Wright, but he has shown signs of effectiveness out of the bullpen over the past few weeks.
Givens, who has gotten plenty of rest after a busy first six weeks of the season, pitched a clean eighth before allowing a home run to open the ninth. He recorded two outs before Brad Brach picked up the final out of the game.
Unhappy debut for Washington: Rookie David Washington, making his major league debut, was the only Orioles starter not to get a hit. He struck out three times.