The end line looks great for Kevin Gausman.
He allowed just two runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out seven Wednesday night as the Orioles beat the Texas Rangers, 3-2.
The pitching line, though, is not the important thing. Nor is the fact Gausman picked up his second win in three outings after getting just one victory in his first 16 starts.
What made Wednesday night essential for Gausman and the Orioles is that the 25-year-old right-hander really struggled in the second inning.
Gausman had already given up a run in the first on a home run by Carlos Beltran, when the Orioles scored three in the bottom of the first against AL Cy Young candidate Cole Hamels, two on a clutch, two-out, two-run single by catcher Matt Wieters.
Gausman took the ball for the second and immediately surrendered a double to Rougned Odor and a run-scoring hit to Jonathan Lucroy. Gausman then walked the next batter.
It was crunch time. He could have given the lead back. And who knows what happens after that? Maybe Gausman unravels. Maybe he doesn’t get through five innings – he had 50 pitches through two.
But Gausman rallied. He threw strikes. He commanded his fastball.
A fly out. A ground out. A strikeout. An escape.
“The old bent, but didn’t break,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Showed a lot of moxie that inning.”
Here’s what Gausman had to say about the 35-pitch second: “Any time you can get out of those jams — I think it was twice that Odor led off with a double to start the inning — any time you can kind of limit that damage and not let it get out of control, it’s going to be good. And it’s going to be in your favor.”
Easier said than done. But it’s what good pitchers do. They battle through the rough innings and yield very little. They then make adjustments and move forward. After 50 pitches in two innings, Gausman threw 58 in the next five, all scoreless.
“I think it is big for him, in-game adjustments,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “I think the one thing he is coming along with is in-game adjustments and knowing that if his best stuff isn’t there in the first or second he might have it there in the fourth or fifth. Just kind of keep hanging on and give us a chance, and get us back in the dugout.”
To be clear, this was not one of Gausman’s best starts. But it might have been one of his more important ones in 2016. Because he beat an excellent team by surviving, by gutting it out and by relying on a tremendous defense to do its job.
Those are invaluable lessons to learn.