Orioles fall to Astros in Elias' return to Houston

Sisco hits first home run of season in 11-inning loss

June 8th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Behind the batting cage equates to sacred space across the big leagues, an oasis for the more casual, interpersonal aspects of Major League life. It is where connections are made, battle stories are shared and reunions happen, one embrace at a time.

That sentiment took on another level Friday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, where Mike Elias walked out onto the field and into his old life. Behind the turtle, smile wide and hand extended, Elias found himself in catch-up conversation with his old boss, Jeff Luhnow, among several other former Astros co-workers. A few feet away, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde chatted with Houston bench coach Joe Espada, his longtime friend, brother-in-law by marriage and former competitor for managerial jobs this past winter. Behind them, several former Astros-turned-Orioles -- Dan Straily and Jonathan Villar among them -- spilled out of the visitors' clubhouse and onto a field they once called home.

Such was the scene long before the Orioles lost, 4-3, in 11 innings, capping a day that began with hugs and handshakes on a bittersweet note. When the dust settled, Yuli Gurriel emerged from a close play at home plate in celebration, having scored on Robinson Chirinos’ game-winning double despite a relay throw that beat him to the plate. Originally ruling Gurriel safe when Sisco did not field Jonathan Villar’s throw cleanly on an in-between hop, home plate umpire John Tumpane’s call stood after a replay review.

“We’re still waiting to see him touch the plate,” Hyde said afterward. “I’m waiting for us to tag him, and I’m waiting for him to touch the plate. I don’t think that’s happened yet.”

Because Tumpane’s call stood, it meant replay officials could not find enough evidence to overturn it, not that they saw Gurriel physically touch the plate. That fact wasn’t lost on the Orioles, who look at the four scoreless innings they received from their bullpen before the 11th, at how they stayed competitive with one of the American League's best clubs despite a dominant effort from Gerrit Cole, and they see an opportunity lost.

“I don’t think he touched the plate,” Sisco said in a quiet postgame clubhouse. “It’s just a do-or-die play right there. You either pick it and get that out or you miss it, and unfortunately for us tonight, I didn’t make that pick. I wish I can take it back.”

The result only did more to underscore a theme of the day: the gap between the Astros and Orioles. Houston owns baseball’s best record since Opening Day 2018. Baltimore? The worst. Similar discrepancies exist from the current roster down to the lower levels of the two farm systems.

But in many ways, the Orioles are now where the Astros were in 2011, when Elias arrived in Houston as part of a new front office headed by Luhnow: at the ground floor of a substantial rebuild Elias characterized as “some tough years.”

What happened next is well-documented. The Astros averaged 104 losses from 2011-14, using those seasons to acquire and develop talent that would turn them into the perennial contenders they’ve been for the past half-decade. Their 2017 World Series championship provided tangible proof that the process -- if executed -- can work, and a blueprint that Elias used to land his current gig in Baltimore.

“It just feels really fast. It feels like I was just here, but it’s been several months,” Elias said. “Just seeing what a great team they have now, it’s a reminder, if you do the work the right way, the players will show up and the team will grow.

“If you look back at when the Astros were in a similar competitive cycle to where we are at right now, there were players on that team who ended up being there on the back end of it. I know that’s going to be the case here, too.”

Though impossible to know at this point in time, Friday’s effort came courtesy of several players who at least have a chance to eventually win in Baltimore.

Immediately slotted in right field and the No. 2 spot in the order, Anthony Santander enjoyed a multi-hit night in his first game back from Triple-A Norfolk. Sisco swatted his first homer of the season, an opposite-field shot into the Crawford Boxes, to support Gabriel Ynoa, who posted his first quality start since joining the rotation last month. Rio Ruiz, once an Elias Draft pick and Astros farmhand, hit a two-run single in the first off Cole, who struck out 14 over seven innings.

All are young, recently-ranked prospects the Orioles hope assert themselves enough for the club to build around.

“I learned patience,” Elias said. “This stuff isn’t easy. I think the thing we did was consistently make decisions that were good for the franchise, even if we knew we were going to take some heat, even if we knew we were going to take some lumps, even if we knew there was going to be some short-term pain. We kept our eye on the ball and made long-range decisions for the good of the franchise. It takes some discipline and some thick skin at times. Hopefully, I can capitalize on that experience.

“When it happens, it’ll happen, and I’m confident that it will happen and we will turn the corner at some point.”