The Orioles used right-hander Kevin Gausman's best start of the season and the longest of his career, plus an early offensive outburst, for a well-earned 4-0 victory over the Texas Rangers on Saturday night before 44,658 fans at Globe Life Park.
Gausman pitched into the ninth inning for the first time in his career and was one out away from a complete-game shutout when a two-out walk and a blooper into center field brought in closer Zach Britton. Britton recorded the game’s final out to give Gausman the sterling line of 8 2/3 scoreless innings, eight strikeouts and three walks while allowing seven hits — all singles.
There was plenty of disappointment that the two-out pop-up fell and robbed him of a nine-inning gem, but it quickly shifted to satisfaction that Gausman is back on track.
“He pitched so well,” catcher Caleb Joseph said. “That’s a big deal nowadays in the stat era — to have a complete game by your name. There’s just not that many of them. I’d be interested to know how many there were in the course of the season already. He was so close. He did a tremendous job, locating the fastball. It all begins and ends with fastball command with Kevin. He elevated when he needed to. He hit it down and away when he needed to. He threw a lot of good sinkers in, took advantage of a pretty aggressive club over there, and I think that helped kind of limit his pitch count. He was able to get up to  over nine innings? That’s pretty good. That’s what you like. That’s what you want to see out of a horse you’re trying to ride.”
For the 26-year-old right-hander, who was the team's Opening Day starter but carried a 7.50 ERA into May and was still north of 6.00 in mid-June, Saturday marked his third straight quality start and his fifth straight win, bringing him to 8-7 with a 5.37 ERA on the season.
The only real trouble he had came early. A leadoff walk to designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo and an infield single by shortstop Elvis Andrus elevated the stakes in the first inning, but a difficult 3-6-1 double play and a putout by shortstop Rubén Tejada from deep in the shortstop hole ended the inning.
From there, Gausman cruised. After Choo singled with two outs in the fifth inning, Gausman didn't allow another man to reach until he walked right fielder Nomar Mazara to open the ninth. But third baseman Manny Machado fielded a difficult short-hop off the bat of his counterpart, Adrián Beltré, to deny him his 3,000th hit and turn a crucial double play. Gausman issued a third walk with two down before a bloop fell in center field to end his day.
“We've got to figure out a way to catch that ball,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Gausman said he might have wanted the complete game “a little too much” and got away from his plans in the ninth inning, but he appreciated Showalter sticking with him past his planned 110-pitch limit.
“One thing I loved about Buck tonight was he gave me a lot of chances in that ninth inning to get it,” Gausman said. “You walk the leadoff guy in the ninth inning, you're usually going to be out of that game. But I think he saw something in me tonight. I was throwing the ball well, so he stayed with the hot hand. Unfortunately, I was an out away, but it was a win and a quality start and more importantly, we only had one guy who had to throw three pitches tonight out of the ’pen.”
Over his past three starts, Gausman has allowed one run on 16 hits with eight walks and 24 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. His game score of 80 tied a season and career high, most recently done on July 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Bombs away: After a relatively quiet night Friday, the Orioles offense had a few big swings early to ensure it wouldn't be shut down again. Center fielder Adam Jones opened the game with a double, but was stranded at second. In the second inning, rookie left fielder Trey Mancini hit a towering home run an estimated 459 feet, according to Statcast, a drive that cleared the Orioles bullpen. Catcher Caleb Joseph followed it up with a home run of his own that frame to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
Mancini grounded into a force to score a third run with the bases loaded in the third inning, and right fielder Seth Smith singled home another run with two outs to make it 4-0.
Showalter said it’s just as hard to hit in the Texas elements — it was 94 degrees at first pitch — as it is to pitch, so the early runs were important.
“Usually you'll find a lot of stuff goes on the last two or three innings, then the tank really gets challenged as you go on in those games,” Showalter said.
Elsewhere, first baseman Chris Davis reached base four times on three walks and a hit-by-pitch, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop hit his team-high 27th double in the third inning to give him an even 100 on his career.
Jones robs Gallo on strong defensive night: Gausman wasn't always fated for a shutout outing, at least until Jones intervened. Rangers slugger Joey Gallo opened the third inning with a towering fly ball to center field that Jones leapt and caught snow-cone style just over the wall for a dramatic first out of the inning.
“When he hit it, I thought it was way gone,” Gausman said. “He hit it really high. The way that Jonesy was kind of looking at it, I thought it was going to be way gone. Before I knew it, he went up there and reached it. Luckily, he's got a lot of pine tar in that glove. I think it stuck in there. That helped it. But like I said, this defense, you feel really confident any time there's weak contact or a hard-hit ball.”
Showalter heaped particular praise on the team’s three double plays, including the first- and ninth-inning double plays, plus another in the fourth inning featuring Machado and Schoop.
“Manny and Jon, my gosh,” Showalter said. “They turned a couple tonight. That last one — they make them look [easy]. I hope everybody appreciates how hard that is. Those are hard. That's one thing I think Manny does that nobody else does, the amount of velocity he can create on the ball from a lot of different angles. Like they tell kids, don't try that at home.”
Another day, Adrián: Anticipation in the stadium was palpable for the possibility that Beltré would reach 3,000 hits Saturday — the team announced over 8,000 fans bought tickets since the end of Friday's game, which Beltré ended with 2,998 knocks.
But he went 1-for-4 with three groundouts, including the crucial one in the ninth inning, to leave him with 2,999 hits.
Gausman and Joseph both said Beltré’s pursuit escalated the feel of the whole game.
“Early on, I could tell it was going to be a different type of atmosphere in the ballpark tonight,” Gausman said. “I was trying to just not give it up to Beltré. It was a lot of fun — every time he came up, everybody in the stadium was standing. That was pretty cool.”
“Sad part is we have to face him again tomorrow,” Joseph said.