The Orioles took the field for Sunday’s series finale against the Houston Astros in one of those “What are the odds?” situations that make baseball such an interesting sport.
When you give up 23 runs the night before and you’re facing one of the best starting pitchers of his generation the next day, well, ending the weekend in the win column had to seem like an impossible dream.
It must have seemed like something even worse than that after the Orioles upstaged Astros ace Justin Verlander and let a late lead get away in frustrating fashion, but they staged a dramatic three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning to score an uplifting, 8-7 victory before an emotionally drained announced crowd of 17,979 at Camden Yards.
No. 9 hitter Rio Ruiz saved them from one of their most deflating losses of a very deflating year when he crushed a two-run walk-off homer off closer Roberto Osuna that landed on Eutaw Street and erased the two-run lead the Astros took against closer Mychal Givens just minutes before.
“We’ve been resilient all year,” said Ruiz, who also homered in Saturday night’s blowout. “We’ve been fighting, and even though sometimes the score dictates that we’re out of the game, we still push runs across the board. That just goes to show that we’re not going to give up.”
Rio got a 2-2 changeup and jacked a no-doubt big fly over the flag court to send the crowd and his teammates into hysterics. It was the 105th home run to reach Eutaw Street and the fourth by an Oriole this season.
“Once I got to two strikes against their closer — and [Jonathan Villar] is swinging a hot bat — I was just trying to get a knock right there and it just happened to go out.”
Of course, the odds said it never should have got to that point in the first place, not with a future Hall of Famer on the mound for the Astros and the Orioles reeling from their worst loss since the infamous 30-3 game against the Texas Rangers in 2007.
In the immediate aftermath of Saturday night’s pitching meltdown, manager Brandon Hyde laid it all on the very broad shoulders of right-hander Asher Wojciechowski.
“We’re in a tough stretch obviously, facing these guys again tomorrow, so we’ll need a real nice start out of Wojo,” Hyde said. “We need Wojo to step up and give us a really good start and we have a doubleheader on Monday. Not the easiest two days.”
Quite a gauntlet to throw down on a pitcher with just 18 major league starts and a 6.06 career ERA: Shut down an Astros team that just scored a club-record run total and looks like the favorite to win the World Series.
Oh, and do it in a pitching duel with Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner who came into the game with a 15-4 record and a league-leading 2.68 ERA.
It didn’t start particularly well. Wojciechowski was staked to a quick lead when Jace Peterson slapped a two-out RBI double in the first inning to score Trey Mancini, but the Astros struck right back with three runs in the second on another moonshot by shortstop Carlos Correa.
Correa hit a 474-foot shot Saturday night that is believed to be the longest home run ever hit in a game at Oriole Park. It cleared both dugouts in left-center field and the fans standing at the rail above them. Sunday’s homer landed in the upper bullpen, a mere 426 feet from home plate.
But that would be the only run-scoring swing off Wojciechowski, who gave up just four hits and struck out five.
“I was satisfied with the outing,” he said. “Hung a slider to Correa and gave up the three-run homer, but then I really settled down and felt I executed my pitches well.”
Hyde said before the game that he expected his hitters to be eager to face Verlander, and he was right. The Orioles grinded out at-bats so well that the Astros ace needed 109 pitches to get through five innings.
The Orioles chipped away at the early lead with a run in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Mancini and tied the game when Pedro Severino doubled in the fifth and Peterson hammered a long triple to center to tie the game.
Hanser Alberto followed with a sacrifice fly to give the O’s the lead and Mancini padded it with another RBI single in the sixth.
It would come down to a battle of the bullpens, which didn’t bode well for the Orioles after Shawn Armstrong relieved Wojciechowski and immediately gave up a run on a pair of no-out hits. But Paul Fry and Miguel Castro held the Astros in check and turned the game over to Givens to try to get the final four outs against the top of the Houston order.
That’s when the Astros did in the ninth inning what they had done for all nine innings Saturday night. Before Givens could get an out, George Springer singled, José Altuve doubled and Michael Brantley lined a triple down the right-field line and that ended up scoring all three runners when it was misplayed by Anthony Santander.
So, it just wasn’t to be ... or was it?
Peterson led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Richie Martin grounded out, moving Peterson to third, and Chance Sisco was hit by a pitch before Chris Davis hit a sacrifice fly to make it a one-run game when Ruiz stepped to the plate.
“It was a fun way to win a game and a fun way to get out of the homestand,” Peterson said. “Obviously, this homestand didn’t go like we wanted it to, so to leave here with a win like that over a team like that is big. I’m happy for Rio. He’s a great ballplayer and he came up big for us in that situation.”