Often in a 2019 season that has featured twice as many losses as wins, the Orioles have seen themselves snatch defeat from the hands of victory. But by snatching a ball before it went in the stands Saturday, right fielder Anthony Santander allowed them to do the opposite.
Playing in his second game since Friday’s call-up, Santander provided the play of the day and perhaps the season in the Orioles’ 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros, their first at Minute Maid Park since 2015. With runners on the corners in the sixth, Yuli Gurriel, who scored the winning run in the 11th inning Friday to push the Orioles’ losing streak in Houston to 10, hammered a hanging slider from Andrew Cashner toward right-center, where Santander was waiting and leaped to catch it.
With some direction from center fielder Keon Broxton, who has robbed his share of home runs in his career, Santander fired toward first base to double off Michael Brantley. Derek Fisher held back at third, tagged up and scored as Santander’s play turned a go-ahead three-run home run into a game-tying sacrifice fly and inning-ending double play.
“I kept telling myself, ‘Get a double play.’ I just didn’t draw it up that way,” Cashner said. “It was the play of the game. It went from a bad outing to a good outing.”
It was Cashner’s last of 87 pitches in his home state; his six one-run innings gave him a quality start after allowing 11 runs in 10 innings in his previous two outings. The Orioles (20-44) had pushed his start back two days because of some leg soreness, and manager Brandon Hyde said Cashner was dealing with a “hot spot” on his right middle finger in the sixth.
The Astros (44-22) managed only the one run in the inning thanks to what Santander said was his first lifetime home run robbery.
“It was going to be a home run,” Santander said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “Fortunately, I was able to time it pretty well and make the catch.”
The Orioles went back ahead when Trey Mancini scored on an error in the eighth, but the lead didn’t feel safe until rookie shortstop Richie Martin hit a two-run home run off left-hander Reymin Guduan’s 2-2 slider in the ninth. The blast, Martin’s second in four games after hitting only one in his first 47, was only possible because Stevie Wilkerson preceded it with the Orioles’ first walk in the series’ 20 innings. Paired with a fifth-inning infield single that came on a 1-2 count, Martin had two two-strike hits after entering play with nine.
“I’m not gonna just lay down with two strikes,” Martin said. “I’m gonna battle as hard as I can. That’s always been my mentality.”
A half-inning earlier, the Astros had the go-ahead run at the plate in star infielder Alex Bregman after left-hander Paul Fry ended 1 2/3 scoreless innings with a walk. But Miguel Castro, the hard-throwing 24-year-old right-hander who took a 5.57 ERA with him to Minute Maid Park’s mound despite eight scoreless innings across his previous four outings, got Bregman to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the threat. He then set the Astros down in order in the ninth for his second save of 2019 and first since April 2 as the Orioles evened the series entering Sunday’s finale.
After Cashner and Houston lefty Framber Valdez did not allow a runner past first through five innings, both teams struck for single runs in the sixth. Renato Núñez’s power stroke had temporarily cooled, as his five straight games without a home run was his longest homerless stretch in nearly a month. He ended that drought and one for the Orioles’ offense with his sixth-inning solo shot, a blast that left his bat at 108 mph and went a projected 413 feet, per Statcast.
It was Núñez’s 16th, a mark only six American Leaguers had passed entering Saturday. The homer also gave the Orioles their first run since Friday’s third inning when Chance Sisco homered in the same direction but with not nearly the distance. Between the solo shots, Orioles batters were 5-for-46 with 18 strikeouts and no walks.
At last backed with a run, Cashner surrendered two singles to begin the sixth, matching the number of hits he allowed in the prior five innings, to put Astros on the corners. After Fisher held at third on a fielder’s choice, Gurriel sent his drive toward right-center.
But Santander was there waiting for it.