HOUSTON—After the wildness of the past two games, the Orioles settled in and hit four home runs, which propelled them to their fourth straight win and cut their magic number to clinch the American League East to eight.
The Orioles’ 9-5 win over the Houston Astros before an announced crowd of 35,050 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night featured two home runs by Austin Hays, one of them a three-run shot, a two-run homer by Ryan O’Hearn and Heston Kjerstad’s second home run.
It also featured a short start by Kyle Gibson, who was pulled after 4 2/3 innings and Jack Flaherty’s first game out of the bullpen.
The Orioles (95-56) are 2 ½ games in front of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. The Rays beat the Angels, 6-2. Any combination of Oriole wins and Tampa Bay losses equaling eight awards the AL East title to the Orioles for the first time since 2014.
“It could have been easy to show up here after celebrating and having fun and not play our best baseball,” Gibson said. “We played like we did the last two games against the Rays. We’ve been fortunate. We haven’t had a whole lot of big losing streaks we need to swing out of. To lose four in a row and swing right around and win four in a row shows that this team is pretty good.”
O’Hearn continued his hot hitting with a two-run home run in the first against Houston starter Hunter Brown. O’Hearn’s 14th home run tied his career high, and scored Anthony Santander, whose double ended an 0-for-19 streak.
Kyle Tucker’s two-run home run, his 28th, tied the score at 2 in the bottom of the first.
Santander and O’Hearn singled and Hays homered, his 15th, in the top of the third for a 5-2 lead. Alex Bregman hit his 24th home run in the bottom of the third.
Gibson was removed after 4 2/3 innings and DL Hall (3-0) got the last out against Yordan Alvarez in the fifth It was only the fifth time in 31 starts Gibson hadn’t completed five innings. He allowed three runs on five hits.
“I think I only had  pitches, but that was the right move,” Gibson said. “Bring in the lefty and get Yordan. If that was a different hitter, I might be able to navigate that and get out of the inning.”
James McCann’s safety squeeze bunt scored Cedric Mullins, and Gunnar Henderson’s single brought Frazier in for a 7-3 lead.
Brown (11-12) allowed seven runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Hall was taken out after Tucker reached on an error by Frazier at second. Yainer Diaz hit his 23rd home run against Jorge López, and the Orioles led, 7-5 ,after six.
Hays hit his second home run of the game with one out in the seventh and Kjerstad hit his second with two outs to give the Orioles a 9-5 lead.
“We’re putting up a lot of runs right now and our pitching staff continues to do what they’ve done all year,” Hays said. “Quality start, bullpen keeps us right there. Just let the offense do what it does, have a big inning. I feel like we’re clicking right now.”
Flaherty, who was sent to the bullpen before the game, pitched the seventh and eighth without allowing a run and was lifted for Yennier Cano after Mauricio Dubón singled leading off the ninth.
“Jack Flaherty won us the game in a lot of ways,” Hyde said.
“I think I can help them in any way, whatever role that is,” Flaherty said. “Whenever I get a chance to get the ball, I’m looking forward to it. It was nice to go out there and throw some innings and put up some zeroes.”
Cano, working for the third straight day, the first time this season, got Jeremy Peña to hit into a double play and walked Bregman before Hyde put in Cionel Pérez to strike out Alvarez for the final out and his second save.
“I feel like I had no choice right there,” Hyde said. He said they threw few pitches on Monday night, allowing him to use them again.
“I was hoping we weren’t going to need them, but we ended up needing them.”
Notes: Kjerstad is the eighth Orioles player to hit two home runs in their first five major league games, the first since Trey Mancini hit three home runs in five games in September 2016. … Hays had his fifth career two- home run game. … Mullins stole two bases. He’s 19-for-22 this season. … According to the Elias Sports Bureau, O’Hearn became the first Orioles player to get a hit in the first seven at-bats of a series since Derrek Lee (June 17th-18th, 2011 vs. Washington). … Kyle Bradish (11-7, 3.12) will face Cristian Javier (9-4, 4.74) on Wednesday at 2:10 p.m. … Second baseman Connor Norby hit a grand-slam, his 19th homer, and designated hitter Josh Lester hit his 23rd home run as Triple-A Norfolk beat Buffalo, 6-3.
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