An Orioles season that began with a sweep of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park reached its midpoint Wednesday night with a 5-2 win over the Houston Astros, clinching another sweep that’s just as improbable.
There were plenty of losing streaks in between as the Orioles hit the 81-game mark of the season at 27-54 and on pace for 108 losses, including 20 straight defeats on the road, tied for the fourth longest streak in Major League Baseball history. But series like these against an Astros (48-33) team that has been one of the best in baseball of late show that, at the very least, the Orioles have better in them in the second half of the season.
“I just thought we were really competitive,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I thought our at-bats were competitive the three games. I thought we played solid defense, made pitches when we needed. ... We did a lot of things well this series. This series and what we did the first series of the year were the best series.”
The Orioles’ four-run first-inning outburst was enough to win, as they built it on a pair of walks by Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini that got Houston pitching coach Brent Strom ejected for his objections over the strike zone.
Those two came around to score on a double by the hot-hitting Ryan Mountcastle. Maikel Franco added a run-scoring single, the first of his game-high three hits, and Pedro Severino finished the scoring with a sacrifice fly.
Astros starter Luis García settled in after that and much more resembled the overpowering pitcher he’s been most of the year, but Houston only closed the gap somewhat before Austin Hays came on as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning and hit a solo home run in the eighth to give the Orioles a bit of a cushion.
Still, even a series in which the Orioles win every game can’t come without a loss or two. Right-hander Hunter Harvey had shoulder discomfort when warming up for the seventh inning and ultimately shut it down for the night, while Franco sprained his ankle trying to avoid the wall on the final out of the game, which left fielder Ryan McKenna caught in foul territory. Hyde said Franco was going to get a precautionary X-ray and “rolled it pretty good.”
“We’re continuing to improve — and continuing to get banged up a little bit,” Hyde said. “Unfortunately, this series we’ve got some guys with some bumps and bruises, but great series.”
Last time Tanner Scott pitched for the Orioles, he wasn’t able to command his fastball and walked three in a disastrous appearance Monday. He was a different pitcher in his return to the mound Wednesday.
Scott stranded both runners Matt Harvey left for him in the fifth inning, meaning the veteran starter ended his day with two runs allowed on four hits after retiring the first 10 batters he faced.
Then, Scott struck out the side on 13 pitches with a fastball that he commanded at 99 mph in a perfect sixth inning.
“You see what Tanner can be,” Hyde said. “I mean, he punched out four. They had no chance. It’s electric stuff, and it’s all about strikes. So, when he’s throwing strikes, an upper-90s fastball with a slide-step delivery and a sharp slider, he’s extremely hard to hit. That’s what it was tonight.”
After him, there was somewhat unique bullpen usage from Hyde, albeit one that worked. Harvey not being able to warm up properly meant Paul Fry had to rush into the game, and he gave the Orioles four outs to pass things on to Cole Sulser for a five-out save.
Memorable call-up for Watkins
With the Orioles bullpen taxed over the past two games and ending a brutal stretch of nearly three weeks without a day off, the team added right-hander Spenser Watkins to the roster Wednesday.
Watkins, signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk and fought back tears discussing what it meant to him and his family on a pregame video call.
He said calling his wife, Brittany, and hearing her excitement was “an amazing feeling” given all they had sacrificed.
“Getting to the big leagues after years I put into this, it’s honestly, I can’t put words,” said Watkins, who is in his eighth minor league season. “I think I’ve been shaking since I got the phone call. It means everything to me and my family.”
The Orioles cleared a 40-man roster spot for Watkins by designating infielder Stevie Wilkerson for assignment and placing Travis Lakins Sr. on the injured list with right elbow pain. Hyde said Lakins would be evaluated further Thursday but it “could be a while.”
Additionally, left-hander Alexander Wells was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and reliever Isaac Mattson was recalled from Norfolk.
Friday, 9:38 p.m.
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