As far as September surprises go, the Orioles are a few days away from breaking up this year with two jumping out — former first-round draft pick DJ Stewart had held his own since his addition nearly three weeks ago, and left-hander Sean Gilmartin had carved out a possible future role with a string of useful long-relief appearances.
A late 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader at Camden Yards reinforced one of those, but let some air out of the latter.
Stewart hit a three-run home run to tie the game in the seventh inning, only for Gilmartin, in his second inning after a clean eighth, to walk George Springer with two outs and watch him come around for the go-ahead run on a double to the center-field wall by Carlos Correa.
The Orioles got singles from Trey Mancini and Tim Beckham to open the ninth, but Renato Núñez grounded into a double play and Stewart struck out to end the game.
“We tried to make a comeback there, just fell one run short,” starter Dylan Bundy said.
Aided by the shadows creeping across the infield for the 4 p.m. start at Camden Yards, Bundy and Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander carved through each other's lineups, aided no doubt by strong arsenals as well. Bundy worked around two-out singles in the first and second innings and carried a shutout into the sixth inning, while Verlander didn't allow a hit while striking out seven of the first nine batters he faced before Adam Jones' two-out double in the fourth inning.
Núñez and Caleb Joseph each had infield singles off Verlander — the latter to win a 15-pitch at-bat — but the Astros' contact later against Bundy was far more significant. After No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp worked the count full and walked to open the sixth for the Astros, Bundy didn't get a 3-2 fastball elevated enough to Springer and watched as it landed deep in the left-field seats, putting the Orioles down 2-0.
The next pitch was a solo home run by Correa into the right-field seats — the major league-high 41st home run Bundy allowed — and what had been a smooth afternoon for Bundy ended with a three-run, 31-pitch slog of a sixth.
Bundy ended the year with his 15th quality start in 31 tries, lowering his ERA to 5.45 in 171 2/3 innings.
“He's pretty good, especially early on,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It gets magnified because of the way Verlander is pitching, there's not going to be much margin for error. I thought it was a pretty positive note all things considered. He was carrying one of his better fastballs, had better command. Just a couple pitches he got where he didn't want to get, but there wasn't going to be much margin for error. He gave us a chance to win.”
Bundy said his year was “not great, but I finished the year healthy.”
“The last start was somewhat strong,” he said.
Once Bundy departed, Cody Carroll held the deficit at three in the seventh inning to allow for Stewart's big swing. Verlander had fanned 10 and allowed three hits in six scoreless innings when Joe Smith took over for the Astros and allowed a one-out double to Tim Beckham, walked Núñez and left an 0-1, 88 mph fastball over the plate to Stewart that ended up in the right-field bleachers for his third homer.
“The first pitch he threw me was actually a good pitch to hit as well, a first-pitch breaking ball, but with the guy in front of me seeing four straight balls, I kind of wanted to see one,” Stewart said. “I had never faced him. It was a good pitch to hit. Fortunately, he gave me another one and came back with the fastball running away and I got a good swing on it.”
Stewart said he hopes he’s made a good impression the past few weeks, and Showalter confirmed he had.
“I'm just trying to go out every day and do my best, try to make a play or two every night and hopefully they like what they see,” Stewart said.
Gilmartin had given the Orioles length and efficiency of late, posting a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings in September entering Saturday and throwing four scoreless, one-hit innings against the Boston Red Sox his previous appearance. But those were in games the Orioles were already losing, and with the score tied, he tired toward the end of his day and couldn’t hold it.
“That was really what we had,” Showalter said. “I've got to have Mike [Wright Jr.] and I've got to have a starter for tomorrow, and I've got to cover [Yefry] Ramírez [in Game 2] and a lot of other things, but Gilly has done well. ... He had as good a chance as anybody.”