Norris takes rare home loss as Astros bats quiet
Righty throws seven strong frames, but Houston only plates one run
HOUSTON -- As consistent as Astros ace Bud Norris' pitching has been at home, his run support in Minute Maid Park was just as constant. Prior to facing Baltimore, Houston had scored three runs in each of his previous five home outings.
Those low totals didn't cost him a decision until Thursday afternoon, when the Astros gave him even less support as the Orioles scrapped together one big inning to win, 3-1, and deal Norris his first home loss in two months.
"I thought Bud did a tremendous job of keeping us in the game, and it was unfortunate offensively we were not able to muster much this afternoon," said Houston manager Bo Porter.
The Orioles have now won three straight series and prevented Houston from accomplishing the trifecta. The Astros haven't won three series in a row since winning seven of nine games against the Cardinals, D-backs and Cubs from Aug. 30-Sept. 8, 2010.
After Wednesday's offensive fireworks that included six Houston home runs, Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez quieted the Astros' bats. He pitched six innings, allowing only five hits and striking out seven while giving up no runs after the first inning. Gonzalez threw 66 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
Houston hitters said Gonzalez commanded the zone, keeping them off balance with an array of breaking balls.
"I had a good feeling with the baseball and changing speeds, so that helped me out a little bit," Gonzalez said.
The Astros didn't do themselves any favors, routinely chasing pitches and recording 10 outs via strikeout.
"It was about us expanding the strike zone," Porter said. "[Gonzalez] sat and watched the power display last night, and I'm pretty sure he saw us getting on some fastballs and said to himself he's going to make an adjustment. He made an adjustment the way he called the game, the way they pitched to our hitters, and a lot of it was breaking balls and sliders and changeups outside of the strike zone. We continued to chase and expand the zone."
Norris largely matched Gonzalez's effort, but the fourth inning did him in.
Orioles slugger Chris Davis led off with a single, and Adam Jones plated him with a double to the left-field gap. J.J. Hardy then lined a base hit past a drawn-in infield to snatch the lead for good.
A near double play seemed to end the threat, but a wild pitch scored Chris Dickerson, who had reached on a fielder's choice and advanced to third on an infield single that ricocheted into shallow left field off the glove of Houston third basemen Matt Dominguez.
"I definitely made a bad pitch to Jones, and you know you can't make mistakes like that against their lineup," Norris said. "Then a couple of balls just fell in there, so that was tough. When they pitch like that across from you, there's not much you can do."
Norris lasted seven innings, working out of several jams as he struck out seven, but allowed nine hits. The performance actually raised his ERA to 2.29 in eight home starts this year, and he shouldered a loss in Houston for the first time since the A's beat him, 6-3, on April 6.
Norris twice escaped innings when the Orioles put two men on base, including the seventh inning, when Norris' fastball was still hitting 95-plus mph.
"I didn't think I had my slider as much as I did in Anaheim, but I threw some changeups that mixed with good velocity," Norris said. "I got some sinkers away on lefties to get easy outs, so I felt alright."
Brandon Barnes scored the lone Astros run right off the bat. He singled to open the first and advanced to third on Jason Castro's double before crossing the plate on J.D. Martinez's sacrifice fly to deep right field.
"As a leadoff guy, I was just trying to get something going to keep momentum from [Wednesday] night," Barnes said. "We thought we had it with Jason and I on, and J.D. hit one hard, but it fell a little short. That set sort of a bad tone."
Houston only moved two runners beyond first base after taking that early lead. Barnes nearly tied the game with a warning-track shot to right field in the eighth inning, but Dickerson corralled the ball at the wall.
The Astros' brief stay in Houston is over, as they head back out on the road for another six-game road trip to face the Royals and Mariners.