Orioles score an unlikely 8-7 win over Astros; Magic number is 9; Division lead is 2 1/2 - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Orioles score an unlikely 8-7 win over Astros; Magic number is 9; Division lead is 2 1/2

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON—A night after the Orioles celebrated an emotional win against an extremely difficult opponent, enabling them to qualify for the postseason, they pulled off a most unlikely win against the defending world champions.

With his bullpen extraordinarily taxed and rightfielder Aaron Hicks suffering from a cramp, manager Brandon Hyde substituted multiple players in unfamiliar positions in the ninth inning and watched the Orioles emerge with an 8-7 win over the Houston Astros before an announced crowd of 34,456 at Minute Maid Park on Monday night.

After John Means pitched a solid five innings, allowing one run, the Orioles’ bullpen allowed six runs in three innings, as Houston took a 7-5 lead into the ninth.

Cedric Mullins hit a three-run home run in the ninth, and Cionel Pérez overcame a two-base error by last year’s Gold Glove third baseman, Ramón Urías, and retired José Abreu and Kyle Tucker before Yennier Cano struck out Chas McCormick to record his seventh save.

In the ninth, with Hicks out of the game and Ryan Mountcastle still unavailable with a left shoulder injury, Hyde decided to play Heston Kjerstad, his designated hitter, in left field, but with two out, he sent Ryan O’Hearn, who had the first five-hit game of his major league career, from first base to left and James McCann to first while Cano registered the strikeout.

“There was a little bit of confusion back and forth a little bit of where I was putting people,” Hyde said. “It got ironed out, and it was correct.”

Hyde needed six innings from his bullpen on Sunday, and Jorge López, who allowed two runs, was the only one of six relievers to be scored upon. With Means working five innings, only Pérez and Cano, who worked a scoreless ninth, didn’t contribute to the bullpen instability.

Shintaro Fujinami, Jacob Webb, Danny Coulombe and Mike Baumann (10-1) gave up six runs in three innings.

“It’s pretty banged up,” Hyde said. “We just played an extra-inning game yesterday. I just threw everybody today, except for a couple guys that I didn’t want to pitch, that weren’t going to pitch. It would be great to get a nice start out of [Kyle] Gibson tomorrow.”

The win gave the Orioles (94-56) a 2 ½ game lead in the American League East over idle Tampa Bay and reduced the magic number to nine. Any combination of Orioles wins and Rays losses equaling nine gives the Orioles their first American League East title since 2014 and a bye into the Division Series that begins October 7th.

Trailing 7-5 entering the ninth, O’Hearn singled with one out against Houston closer Ryan Pressly (3-5). O’Hearn had four singles and a double. Austin Hays singled, and Mullins hit his 15th home run to right-center.

“I still don’t have a four-hit game,” O’Hearn cracked. “I had a magic wand tonight. I put together good at-bats. Balls were finding holes. It was awesome.”

O”Hearn, who hit .219 in five seasons with Kansas City is hitting a robust .309 with the Orioles.

“I’ve never been in the postseason, but I would imagine it’s going to be like tight games, big-time high-pressure situations and finding ways to score runs off the closer,” O’Hearn said. “I would hope that games like this, these emotional games that are back-and-forth-type games, a lot of stress and high-pressure stuff is preparing us for postseason play.”

Means, who had never pitched against the Astros, threw exceedingly well in his second start since his April 2022 Tommy John surgery. Means allowed one run on five hits and looked to have an excellent chance to win for the first time in nearly two years. Once he left the game, it was one strange thing after another, and yet the Orioles won again.

“It was incredible. That’s what this team’s been doing all year,” Means said. “Picking each other up, over and over again. Cedric, steady Ceddy, at the end of the game, absolutely crushed the ball. It’s so fun, and there’s so much energy.”

Means allowed a leadoff double to Jose Altuve, who scored on a two-out double by Tucker in the first.

Gunnar Henderson hit his league-leading ninth triple with one out in the third and scored when McCormick made a diving play on Adley Rutschman’s line drive to left.

Yordan Alvarez was out at the plate trying to score from center on Tucker’s fly to Mullins. It was his fourth assist of the season.

Jorge Mateo and Henderson singled with one out in the fifth. They moved up a base on Rutschman’s shot to first base and scored on O’Hearn’s bloop single to center for a 3-1 lead.

Means had a good chance for his first win since September 20th, 2021 until a disastrous sixth inning. Fujinami gave up Tucker’s triple and McCormick’s single, and he was quickly on third thanks to a stolen base and a wild pitch. Jeremy Peña singled to tie the score at 3 and after Webb walked Mauricio Dubón, Altuve’s two-out double scored Peña and Dubón, to give Houston (84-67) a 5-3 lead.

Houston starter Justin Verlander allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings and hasn’t beaten the Orioles since August 4th, 2017.

The Orioles tied it in the seventh on RBI doubles by Rutschman and Mullins. O’Hearn, who lined a ball off Astros reliever Rafael Montero, was easily out at the plate when he tried to score on Mullins’ double.

Abreu hit a one-out home run, his 16th, against Coulombe in the seventh.

Martin Maldonado’s 14th home run in the eighth against Baumann put the Astros ahead, 7-5.

“I feel like we’ve been playing these type of games – not to this extent, the last couple of days – but we’ve been playing so many one-run games this year that I feel like we’re kind of used to playing with a tying or winning run at the plate,” Hyde said. “We’ve done a great job of that so far, so. A win is a win.”

Notes:. Hyde said Mountcastle is still not a candidate for the 10-day injured list. Urías has five errors this season, four since September 1st. … Gibson (14-9, 4.98) will face Hunter Brown (11-11, 4.61) on Tuesday at 8:10 p.m.  

Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions next week. Please submit your questions to: [email protected].

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