HOUSTON — The Orioles scored enough runs to win Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, their power bats finally bulking up against one of the game’s top starters, Justin Verlander.
But the team’s overworked bullpen, which was handed a one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, allowed seven runs in three innings in a 10-6 loss to the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
The loss was the Orioles’ fourth straight since winning on Opening Day in extra innings.
A fourth straight start of five or innings or less left a pair of Rule 5 draft relievers pitching in a tied game in the seventh, and the Astros scored five runs off Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes Jr. in the inning. Josh Reddick hit a pair of homers, including a seventh-inning grand slam off Cortes that broke the game open, and drove in six runs on the night.
“They’ve got to pitch,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the Rule 5 relievers. “We still like them. It’s just a tough situation for them. If we’ve got that sixth inning pitched, we have a little different setup that we could have taken a shot with.”
Ideally, Showalter would have preferred to break in the two Rule 5 relievers slowly, but needing arms to bridge the game to late-inning relievers Darren O’Day and Brad Brach, he turned to his two most inexperienced pitchers.
After the game, Showalter indicated that had Mychal Givens not needed 24 pitches to get through the sixth while losing the lead on a two-run homer by Reddick, he could have sent him back out for the seventh, then finished the game with an inning each from O’Day and Brach to hold the lead.
But with Richard Bleier having pitched consecutive days, and Miguel Castro coming off a two-inning outing on Monday, Showalter was forced to turn to the Rule 5 picks in a tie game in the seventh.
“When we took that lead, if we got that shutdown inning … Mike [Givens] would have had to pitch two innings with where we were with the bullpen,” Showalter said. “We thought we had a shot there with Darren and Brad behind him where they could have pitched tonight if we could have held that lead there.”
Adam Jones hit a two-run homer off Verlander in the sixth to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead, only to see Givens give it back on Reddick’s two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
Jones tied the game in the seventh on a two-out run-scoring single, a hit that came after Manny Machado sprinted out of the box on a single to center, landing on second after center fielder George Springer bobbled the ball.
Araujo, making his third major league appearance and first in a tie game, yielded a go-ahead run in the seventh on an RBI double down the left-field line by Springer after hitting the first batter he faced.
Araujo left the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh after walking two and Cortes allowed a grand slam to Reddick that made Minute Maid Park erupt.
Cortes fell behind Reddick 3-0, then worked the count full before Reddick fouled off a pair of pitches and then launched an 89-mph fastball into the Astros bullpen beyond the right-center-field fence.
“I came in and was in a situation left-on-left, I have to get that guy out,” Cortes said. “Missed my spots in the beginning and fell behind. Got him a pitch to hit and he hit it out. ... [You] come into the game, bases loaded down a run. Trying to save the other pitcher’s runs. And not allow the game to get out of hand. But like I said, I didn’t make pitches and you guys saw the results.”
Offensively, the Orioles had shown little life going into Tuesday’s second game against the Astros, hitting .134 as a club and scoring just six runs in their first four games of the season.
The Orioles entered the night having not scored against an opposing starter in 27 innings this season, but hit two homers — and were robbed of a third — against Verlander.
Jonathan Schoop homered in the top of the first off the left-field facade, and Reddick robbed Trey Mancini of a would-be three-run shot in the fourth, forcing the Orioles to settle for a sacrifice fly on the play.
Orioles right-hander Mike Wright Jr. — pitching for the first time in nearly two weeks since his last Grapefruit League outing March 22 — allowed three runs over five innings, two that scored on Carlos Correa’s inside-the-park homer in the first inning on a ball that Mancini misplayed against the left-center-field fence. Wright retired the final eight batters he faced.
“I felt like I made a lot of good pitches and obviously one pitch in the first went and cost us two runs, but considering how long it’s been I felt pretty good,” Wright said. “I still felt good [at the end]. I felt like my pitch count was actually a little higher than I thought it was. I still felt strong the whole way through, if not stronger at the end than I did at the beginning.”