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Orioles nearly no-hit in 10-2 loss to Astros; Maikel Franco’s home run in eighth inning averts bid

They throw to the wrong base. They give away outs. They’ve allowed the most runs in the American League. But thanks to an eighth-inning home run by Maikel Franco, the Orioles haven’t been no-hit.

Not yet, at least.

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Franco, who stayed alive with two strikes and one out when a breaking ball a few inches in the strike zone was called a ball, launched the Orioles’ first hit of the game into their bullpen to spare their blushes in a 10-2 loss to the Houston Astros before 7,414 fans at Camden Yards that had a chance to be the wrong kind of memorable but instead goes into the overflowing bucket of lopsided losses.

“Wasn’t very fun,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We struggled offensively.”

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The Orioles (23-49) have now lost 11 of 12, and this one felt weird from the start. Delayed for an hour by sheets of rain, most in attendance were more interested in jeering Astros stars José Altuve and Carlos Correa for the 2017 sign-stealing scandal in their World Series season. They weren’t much interested in cheering for the Orioles, who cooperated by not giving them much worth supporting.

Before DJ Stewart’s one-out walk in the fifth inning, they didn’t have a baserunner. A deep fly to center field from Pedro Severino off starter Jake Odorizzi in the third inning was mildly threatening, but with an expected batting average of .360, wasn’t more than that.

That changed some once Cristian Javier took over for Odorizzi in the sixth inning. Hard-hit, sinking line drives from Severino, Freddy Galvis, and Ryan Mountcastle were all caught at the shoestrings to help complete seven hitless innings.

But before the Orioles got a chance to bat in the eighth, the rain returned and delayed the game for 41 more minutes.

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In that eighth, Austin Hays was hit on the head with a pitch by reliever Brandon Bielak before Franco got a lifeline from home plate umpire Angel Hernández and saved the no-hitter from stretching into the ninth with his ninth home run of the season.

Franco said even after the rain delay, he didn’t want to give any at-bats away, though he acknowledged his good fortune in having an opportunity to end the no-hitter.

“They didn’t call that pitch a strike and they gave me another chance to do a good thing,” Franco said. “That’s what happened. I put good contact on the ball, and [ended] the no-hitter.”

That home run, and Stevie Wilkerson’s ensuing single, were the only highlights in a poor offensive day.

“We just had a tough time,” Hyde said. “We were just undisciplined tonight offensively — a lot of chases outside the strike zone.”

Even without the Orioles’ offensive futility, it would have taken a lot more than they offered to make this a game. Rookie left-hander Keegan Akin had a pair of scoreless innings to open the game before Jason Castro doubled to open the third and, after a four-pitch walk to José Altuve, scored on a single by Chas McCormick.

That the Orioles again gave away a free base on Austin Hays’ throw home satisfied their requirement for a defensive lapse, and after another walk and a sacrifice fly by Yuli Gurriel, an emphatic three-run home run by Yordan Álvarez made it 5-0 in a hurry.

Akin pitched into the fifth inning, yielding five runs on six hits with four walks and five strikeouts to bring his ERA to 6.42. By then, it was less a concern who was pitching for the Orioles in the top half compared to whether they’d manage a hit in the home half.

Once they did, the Orioles avoided their first no-hitter since Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners kept them hitless on August 12, 2015 in Seattle. The only no-hitter at Camden Yards remains the one pitched by Hideo Nomo with the Boston Red Sox on April 4, 2001.

Orioles grounds crew members work on the pitching mound to try to keep it dry as Orioles pitcher Mac Sceroler looks on during heavy rain in the eighth inning of Monday's game against the Astros. The Orioles lost, 10-2.
Orioles grounds crew members work on the pitching mound to try to keep it dry as Orioles pitcher Mac Sceroler looks on during heavy rain in the eighth inning of Monday's game against the Astros. The Orioles lost, 10-2. (Kenneth K. Lam)

All-star voting update

Outfielder Cedric Mullins moved into the ninth-place spot in American League All-Star voting Monday, which would carry him into the second phase of voting that determines which players will start the July showcase game if results hold through Thursday’s deadline.

Mullins, whose breakout season with the Orioles has made him among the best players in all of baseball, passed Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena by fewer than 8,000 votes for the ninth spot.

First baseman Trey Mancini remained outside the top five vote-getters at that position.

César Valdez to the injured list

Before Sunday’s game, Hyde said it was a matchup issue and not an injury that had kept right-hander César Valdez from pitching in a game in a week. He allowed two runs in an inning of work in Sunday’s loss to Toronto, then was placed on the 10-day injured list with a lower back strain Monday.

The Orioles recalled right-hander Travis Lakins Sr. to join the bullpen in his stead. Lakins is in his fifth stint with the major league team this season, and was charged with two runs in 2 ⅓ innings of relief behind Akin.

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