Camden Yards quickly fell quiet Saturday night after Houston Astros third baseman Colin Moran was carted off the field after getting hit in the face by his own foul ball in the sixth inning. The crowd then dropped into disbelief when the pinch hitter who replaced him, Marwin González, hit the eventual game-winning three-run homer off Darren O’Day to send the Orioles to a jaw-dropping 8-4 loss.
"Sure, it changes the tempo, but you deal with changes in a game and a season," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That's what you do because it doesn't always go, tempo and scripted. It's the adjustments you make every night and Darren's real good at that. He threw a lot of good pitches to him. They did a lot of things to set that inning up, too."
This season has had its share of deflating moments, but few were more unpredictable than the one that played out in Saturday’s sixth inning, in which the Astros scored five runs immediately after the Orioles scored four in the fifth on two-run homers by Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop off starter Collin McHugh.
Given the importance of every game as July winds down — and the fact that every loss drops them further out of contention as the nonwaiver trade deadline approaches — the Orioles can ill afford being as snake-bitten as they were Saturday.
Right-hander Chris Tillman went into the sixth with a 4-1 lead, then allowed a one-out, ground-rule double to Josh Reddick before Yuli Gurriel lofted a ball that hit the railing above the top of the scoreboard in right field. The ball was initially ruled an RBI double, but after a crew chief review, Gurriel was given a two-run homer to cut the Orioles’ lead to one.
That chased Tillman from the game two outs shy of a second consecutive quality start, and right-hander Darren O’Day allowed back-to-back singles just two pitches into his outing. He struck out Alex Bregman on a close called strike three before Moran swung out in front of a first-pitch inside fastball from O’Day, fouling it directly into his own face.
It drew blood quickly as trainers from both teams attended to Moran, who struggled to get back onto his feet and needed help walking to the cart that drove him off the field. After a brief delay, González stepped to the plate.
González ended a nine-pitch at bat, which included four foul balls with two strikes, by hitting a towering three-run homer to right field that landed on Eutaw Street, completing the Orioles’ collapse.
“Yeah, it was tough," O'Day said. "I hope [Moran is] OK. But I don’t think that really affected me as a pitcher. It’s easy to make an excuse. I came in and made a couple poor pitches, got guys on base and then I had to be perfect. It was a tough at-bat.
“He fouled off some really good pitches until he got a bad one. Did a hell of a job keeping it fair. I thought I had him set up for a pitch there and I didn’t execute, so I just made a mistake. It’s really unacceptable for a team that’s kind of fighting for every win. I just didn’t get the job done.”
With the loss, the Orioles dropped to five games under .500 (46-51), but remained 4½ games out of the second American League wild-card spot.
Grand Schoop of things
With his two-run homer in the fifth, Schoop homered for the third consecutive game, giving him a team-high 21 this year.
Schoop has 15 RBIs during a streak of six straight games with at least one run driven in, giving him 69 on the season, which also leads the club and is 19 more than the next-best Orioles player. He is 10-for-22 over his past four games.
"[It’s great] to see Jon continue to get better every year and learn from things that he knows he can get better at," Showalter said. "He’s very approachable. You never have to worry if he’s in a mood or something like that. Jon is very approachable and coachable and always looking for help and very respectful of anyone who is trying to help him."
The Orioles were held to one hit over their first four innings by McHugh, who showed the Orioles a mostly off-speed repertoire. Just 29 of his 77 pitches were fastballs. McHugh, who was making his first start of the season as he returned from a shoulder injury, was then chased from the game in the fifth.
With Seth Smith on first after a leadoff walk, Jones hit his 18th homer of the season sitting on a 2-0 fastball right as rain began to fall at Oriole Park.
After Manny Machado followed with a single, Schoop blasted a two-run shot that went an estimated 411 feet, according to Statcast.
The Orioles wouldn’t have a hit for the rest of the game, finishing the night with just four hits.
Tillman strong early
Early on, Tillman appeared well on his way to building on two strong outings, holding the Astros scoreless until his first pitch of the fifth inning, when shortstop Alex Bregman took a four-seam fastball over the center-field fence an estimated 403 feet to break a scoreless tie.
Bregman’s ninth homer of the season came after Tillman began to find his groove, retiring seven straight after allowing three base runners in the second inning.
Tillman hadsuccess with his curveball, drawing five swings and misses and five called strikes with the pitch. He threw nearly just as many curveballs (25) as he did four-seam fastballs (29).
He fell into hard luck on Gurriel’s opposite-field home run, coming two outs short of a second straight quality start, but is still making strides since an unsteady return from a shoulder injury. In his past three outings, he has a 3.31 ERA after posting an 8.39 ERA over his first 10 starts this season.
"I knew he hit it well," Tillman said of Gurriel's homer. "I threw the pitch I wanted to make and he put a good swing on it. They’re a good team. I felt like I still had control of that ballgame. Reddick put a good swing on a ball and so did Gurriel, but it is what it is.”
Astros add two off Brach
Right-hander Brad Brach allowed two runs in the ninth, though he could have easily gotten out of the inning without having allowed a run.
He ran into trouble early, allowing consecutive singles to George Springer and José Altuve to open the inning. But two batters later, Machado muffed a possible double-play ball off the bat of Gurriel. Instead, the Astros (65-32) loaded the bases with one out, then scored one run on Evan Gattis’ RBI single and another on Carlos Beltrán’s sacrifice fly to center field.
It was the first time Brach has allowed two runs — only one was earned — in an outing since May 10, when he blew a save in Washington. Brach had allowed four runs in 22 outings in between.