Leave it to Dylan Bundy, the bright beacon in a so-far dark Orioles season, to power through the malaise that has held the team down all year. He continued his wonderful April and ended a six-game losing streak for the Orioles with a 3-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night at Camden Yards.
It was a game that began by looking like the kind of bad baseball the Orioles (6-14) hoped to have left in Detroit. Two pop-ups that should have been outs fell harmlessly in the first two innings, extending the star pitcher. Fortunately for them, Bundy (1-2) is the type of pitcher that can now overcome it.
"Dylan has been solid," manager Buck Showalter said. "It's fun to watch him pitch, in every sense of the word. That's a tough lineup. That's one of the best lineups in baseball with what, seven left-handed hitters? You look at them and there's very few spots where you can gain an advantage. You've got to pitch. … That even magnifies what Dylan did."
The 25-year-old right-hander was made to do extra work early because, of all things, pop-ups fell without being caught. In the first inning, it was a foul fly near the Orioles dugout that resulted in a long inning and the Indians' only run off him. In the second, another fell between catcher Chance Sisco and third baseman Tim Beckham. No matter.
Bundy has the raw stuff now in his second season as a starter to slice through that, and he did to the tune of six innings pitched with one run in on five hits and nine strikeouts against two walks. His 24 swinging strikes, achieved on 108 pitches, were a career high.
He's pitched at least into the sixth inning in all five of his starts this year, allowing no more than three runs in any of them. His ERA of 1.40 entering the game was fifth best in the majors, and it climbed only barely to 1.42. He's striking out 11.37 batters per nine innings, has allowed just one home run in 31 2/3 innings, and on Friday, the Orioles finally rewarded him with a victory.
He's been left to watch late-inning dramatics, such as Opening Day, or made a hard-luck loser with seven total runs in his four previous starts. He made what offense he got stand up Friday.
"He's been throwing the ball well," said shortstop Manny Machado, who played another starring role Friday. "Finally, we got him a win. He's a horse. He's been throwing strikes, pounding the zone, getting outs. We just haven't been scoring runs for him. It finally felt good to put up some runs for him, to get him that W, and hopefully, he keeps throwing how he's throwing and these bats get hot."
The Indians (9-8) never really threatened off him after that shaky first inning, when second baseman Jason Kipnis singled one pitch after Sisco appeared to lose track of a pop-up in foul territory near the Orioles dugout and never made a play on it. Showalter said it seemed to have gotten lost in the sky and moved on him late. Then Bundy issued a walk, allowed another soft single and hit Edwin Encarnación with a breaking ball on his elbow protector to score the only run against him. Encarnación grinned on his way to first. Bundy remained stoic, and got out of the inning on a flyout and a strikeout.
It was a difficult inning that didn't need to be so, but with seven swinging strikes on 26 pitches, Bundy showed the type of swing-and-miss stuff the Indians would be forced to cope with the rest of the night.
"You just have to limit the damage there," Bundy said. "It could have been a lot worse and put us in a hole there, but I was able to get out of it."
Said Showalter: "The first inning, that could have gotten away from him. … We've had some tough times here recently, obviously. The game starts like that, a pop-up or two that we don't catch, and there's that … it's just human nature to have that vibe kind of get negative on you if you let it. Probably looking back on it, the key was the first inning. A lot of guys, you get a pop-up and they're thinking, 'Gosh.' Dylan doesn't live in that world."
The fallen pop-up in the second inning didn't matter much, though the Orioles were fortunate that ball itself wasn't deemed a hit. Showalter said Beckham called Sisco off late, but the catcher likely would have made the play if not for that. It landed fair, but was ruled foul and such a play can't be reversed on review.
Tyler Naquin naturally singled to punish the miscue, but Sisco erased him on a caught-stealing to render it moot. From then on, Bundy yielded a two-out double to Michael Brantley in the third inning and a two-out single to Naquin in the fourth.
That's when the Orioles bats woke up, with Machado hitting his third home run in two games and his sixth of the season to tie the game at 1. Showalter said that settled the game. Sisco was hit by a pitch to open the fifth, went to third on a single by Luis Sardiñas and both scored on a double by left fielder Trey Mancini.
Bundy made it stand up, striking out all three batters he faced in the sixth inning to make it six of the last 10 batters he faced retired that way. He was boosted by the late lead.
"You can definitely reach down there and get some more when you need it after your offense comes through for you and you know it's your last inning," Bundy said. "Just go out there and give it all you've got."
Left-hander Richard Bleier continued his standout season with two scoreless innings of relief around one hit to lower his ERA to 0.61. Darren O'Day had his first save of the season with two strikeouts in a scoreless ninth.
"To beat a really good pitcher and one of the top, probably, four teams in the American League right now going in, that's tough," Showalter said. "It's tough to go through that lineup and hold them to one run, that's impressive on the part of our three pitches. So, I hope it's something we can some confidence in. … Those are the type of people we have to beat to get where we want to go."