Patience pays off as O's snap four-game skid
Baltimore goes ahead on two bases-loaded walks; Tillman solid in 6 2/3
HOUSTON -- A little patience paid off big time for the Orioles on Saturday afternoon.
No, a struggling Baltimore lineup -- which entered the game with five runs scored over its past three games -- didn't break out the hit parade. But it did work a trio of walks -- two with the bases loaded -- against an opposing starter who had given up just one walk in his last four starts combined.
The pair of free-pass RBIs, one of which was issued to the red-hot Nelson Cruz -- who drove in three runs, including his Major League-leading 20th homer -- helped the Orioles to a sorely needed 4-1 victory over the Astros. The win halted a four-game skid for the O's and put Baltimore (27-27) back at .500, where the club hopes to turn a corner after a disappointing three-week stretch.
"As a team, we know we can score runs, no doubt," said Cruz, who has driven in six of the team's last nine runs. "We have, top-to-bottom, one of the best lineups in the league. It was a matter of time before we came back [to] do what we're supposed to do. Today was a great example. We had a chance to tie the game and go on top again."
And they did it in uncharacteristic fashion, as the O's had just one walk in the previous 27 innings, before Astros starter Dallas Keuchel lost his command in the fifth.
"Especially, you don't like your chances much against Keuchel," manager Buck Showalter said of his group garnering a trio of game-changing walks. "I think one of them might have kind of been intentional-unintentional. He didn't want to give in there and it got away from him, but there were some real patient at-bats."
The win also saw a solid rebound effort from starter Chris Tillman, who gave the O's their third consecutive quality start. Tillman, who allowed 14 earned runs over his two previous starts, held Houston to one run over 6 2/3 innings, as the O's snapped the Astros' seven-game win streak, which was the organization's longest since 2010.
"Even last year, I feel like I get better as the game goes," said Tillman. "That's just the way I am. I'm not trying to throw softer earlier in the game. I felt good later in the game and was able to get into a rhythm."
Cruz has been in sync since the month began, as the veteran outfielder, who has an incredible 52 RBIs, set a club record in RBIs before the end of May, passing Chris Davis' record of 50 from last year. Cruz, who has said he's as locked in this month as he's ever been in his 10-year career, pushed the O's lead to three with a leadoff eighth-inning homer off Astros reliever Jerome Williams.
"Just tried to go wherever the ball is," said Cruz, who also had a leadoff double that one-hopped the fence in the fourth. "If it's inside, try to turn on wherever it is. I'm in the zone right now. I can see the ball well enough, stay long enough, pull the ball."
Cruz, who drove in the first run on a sacrifice fly, can also lay off close pitches. With the score tied at 1, Keuchel watched three Orioles keep their bats on their shoulders as his command went by the wayside.
"It was an unfortunate chain of events, kind of lost feel," said Keuchel, who still managed to toss his fifth consecutive quality start. "Other than that [inning], I felt great. I cost the team, pretty much. I just didn't have the feel. When that happens, give them credit for laying off some pitches. That's a good team."
After Manny Machado's one-out infield single in the fifth, Caleb Joseph dropped a ball into right field to give the O's a pair of two-out baserunners. Nick Markakis walked to load the bases, with Steve Pearce's free pass giving the Orioles the lead. Cruz walked to score Joseph and Keuchel got behind on Adam Jones, 3-0, but struck the center fielder out to limit the damage.
That was enough support for Tillman, who held the Astros to four hits and struck out three in his 110-pitch performance. The righty didn't allow a hit after Marwin Gonzalez's single off the scoreboard with two outs in the fourth, and Houston's lone extra-base hit was Jason Castro's second-inning double. Castro came around to score after Tillman hit the two batters to load the bases and let Robbie Grossman's dribbler -- which stayed fair -- roll along far enough for everyone to be called safe.
"I thought after the first inning, [Tillman] reached back and got a little more fastball," Showalter said. "My mother used to call it 'pussyfooting around' a little bit. I can see he gets that little look in his eye like, 'Enough of this. Let's go.'"
While Tillman's performance was heartening for the Orioles, he got a lot of help from his defense. Left fielder Pearce threw out Gonzalez at second in the fourth and Markakis made an on-the-run grab in deep right field in the fifth.
At 97 pitches to start the bottom of the seventh, Tillman issued a leadoff walk to Grossman, but got a double-play ball to erase the threat and end his night. Right-hander Ryan Webb got the next four outs before closer Zach Britton came on to seal the win.
Could this be the game that marks a turnaround for Tillman, the Orioles' Opening Day starter who has had a rough month?
"I think so," Tillman said. "Ubaldo [Jimenez] threw the ball well. [Miguel Gonzalez] threw the ball well. I think we are kind of feeding off each other, kind of getting this thing going a little bit. I think it's a part of the game, the friendly competition that we always talk about. These guys went out and set the tone early. I have to follow suit."