HOUSTON -- The Orioles parlayed a strong Andrew Cashner start and what might be the defensive play of their season into a 4-1 win over the Astros on Saturday, and they are savoring it.
The headliner was recently promoted right fielder Anthony Santander, whose home-run-robbing double play set the stage for Baltimore’s first win at Minute Maid Park in 11 tries, dating back to 2015. Here’s a look at four plays that most affected Saturday’s outcome:
Santander robs Gurriel
Inning: Bottom sixth
Win expectancy before the play: 49.5 percent
Win expectancy after the play: 50 percent
Net: +0.5 percent
The rigid nature of win expectancy sometimes limits the metric’s ability to reflect context, and Saturday’s turning point provided a prime example. In terms of hard math, the sac fly-double play the Orioles turned from Yuli Gurriel’s sixth-inning drive off Cashner translates to a simple trade-off: two outs for one run, plain and simple.
But in reality, Santander’s catch was much more consequential, given the difficulty of the play and the potential consequence of not making it. With the Orioles cradling a one-run lead, Santander leaped above the right-center-field wall to take away what would’ve been a three-run homer; his subsequent throw to first then doubled off Michael Brantley. Though Derek Fisher tagged from third, the catch turned a potential two-run deficit into a tie game. It had the added benefit of “lighting a fire under our butts, giving us a lot of momentum,” said center fielder Keon Broxton.
“I gotta rate that entire play a 10 out of 10. He got a double play and robbed a homer: that’s amazing,” added Broxton, who had the most up-close-and-personal view. “It gave us security to know we’re in this game, we’re going to pull away with it.”
Perhaps Cashner said it best: “I kept telling myself, ‘Get a double play.’ I just didn’t draw it up that way. It was the play of the game. It went from a bad outing to a good outing.”
Nunez takes Valdez deep
Inning: Top sixth
Win expectancy before the play: 46.7 percent
Win expectancy after the play: 64.6 percent
Net: +17.9 percent
Backtrack a half inning. The Orioles were ahead in the first place because of designated hitter Renato Núñez, whose solo homer off Framber Valdez broke a scoreless tie. Valdez and Cashner spent the afternoon dueling: Cashner held Houston to one run over six before leaving with a blister on his right middle finger, while Valdez struck out seven over seven strong frames.
Nunez was the only Oriole to get to the southpaw, cranking a 413-foot solo shot to the train tracks at Minute Maid Park, his 16th homer of the season. That pulled Nunez into a tie for seventh in the American League, and continued his season-long assault on left-handed pitching. Half of Nunez’s home runs have come off southpaws, in roughly half as many plate appearances as he’s had against righties.
Mancini scores on Mayfield error
Inning: Top eighth
Win expectancy before the play: 57 percent
Win expectancy after the play: 73.1 percent
Net: +16.1 percent
Baltimore’s breakthrough rally off Will Harris in the eighth inning featured a lot of noise, and it almost didn’t happen after Hanser Alberto, who doubled to lead off the frame, was cut down at the plate on a Nunez grounder to third. But that only set the stage for what came next. With runners on first and second and one out, Pedro Severino sent a one-hop smash toward second base, where Tony Kemp made an athletic stop and threw to second for the force out. But Jack Mayfield’s return throw to first was wide, allowing Trey Mancini to scamper home from second with the go-ahead run.
Martin puts the game away
Inning: Top ninth
Win expectancy before the play: 82.7 percent
Win expectancy after the play: 96.4 percent
Net: +13.7 percent
The game was still in the balance before Richie Martin jumped on a 2-2 slider from Reymin Guduan, sending it 403 feet over the left-center-field wall for the longest homer in the rookie shortstop’s career. That turned a 2-1 lead into the 4-1 final, which Miguel Castro locked down with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Martin has now homered twice in his past four games, after doing so once in his first 47. Both came on breaking balls against late-inning relievers, positive signs for a rookie Rule 5 Draft pick who has spent much of this season adjusting to big league pitching.
“I think that comes with time, just constantly putting in the work,” Martin said. “I’ve always been comfortable. It’s just a matter of learning pitchers and teams and knowing yourself and what you need to do at the plate, opposed to what other guys are doing.”