The last time the Orioles were swept in a series, Trey Mancini was starting at first base, Adley Rutschman was in Norfolk and a bird bath was just something people had in their backyard.
The end of that streak — 75 straight sweepless series — was pending Thursday. The Astros had won by six runs the night before, and José Altuve homered in the seventh to bring the Astros within one.
But, as in the previous 14 months, the Orioles responded. Ryan O’Hearn doubled, smacking the ball off the center-field wall. Then Ryan Mountcastle belted a low slider over the outstretched glove of Mauricio Dubón at the left-field wall.
Mr. Splash left his post in the Bird Bath to grab the two-run shot before spraying fans. The streak, which is the fifth longest in MLB history, stayed alive.
“We do fight,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “They battle ... and they’re pulling for each other.”
Before Thursday, the Orioles had avoided sweeps five times this season by committee. They employed a similar strategy to put away the Astros 5-4 with six players earning hits, led by Rutschman’s two hits and two RBIs.
“I thought we were scrappy,” Hyde said.
This time, defense helped the Orioles avoid a sweep too. They didn’t leave a runner on base for the first time since 2015, with clutch diving or leaping grabs routinely halting the Astros’ offense. Ramón Urías’ failed catch in the ninth was even critical in the win, Hyde said, because the deflection was enough to stop Houston from tying the game.
“They’re a special group to have behind you,” starting pitcher Dean Kremer said. “We’ve got some of the best defense in the league.”
Baltimore last evaded a sweep on July 19 against the Dodgers, winning 8-5 after losing the second matchup by seven runs. Urías was crucial throughout the victory, tying a season high with three RBIs.
“We’re not going to give any games away, and I feel like that’s what you have to do to make the postseason run,” said Gunnar Henderson, who also homered in the game.
Against the Astros, Urías made an impact instantly, diving onto the wet infield to stop a liner from Altuve. With his right knee still on the ground, he made the throw in time for the first out of the afternoon.
Urías came to bat in the bottom of the third, working a full count. He made contact on a high fastball, looping it deep into right-center. The ball was almost a home run, but it smacked the fence in front of the Astros bullpen. Still, Urías slid safely into third, his second straight appearance with a triple.
James McCann boomeranged a line drive to Astros pitcher Hunter Brown. Brown had to duck to avoid getting hit, while Urías walked to home plate for a 2-1 Baltimore lead.
Rutschman wasted no time in giving the Orioles their original advantage in the bottom of the first. He slammed the third pitch he saw, a low-and-away curveball, into left field.
The ball sailed right into the hands of a fan in Section 86, a couple of people removed from Thursday’s Mr. Splash. Sprays doused whoever made the catch, along with the rest of the section, before the umpires reviewed the play for possible fan interference.
The call stood, marking the first leadoff homer of Rutschman’s career, but the elation for the Orioles didn’t last long. Just as Rutschman began Baltimore’s batting with a bang, Yainer Diaz went yard in the top of the second. Kremer left a cutter near the middle of the zone, and Diaz it hammered into the center-field stands.
Kremer started in the win over the Dodgers too, a two-run homer from Max Muncy in the fifth ending his outing. On Thursday, two home runs were the only blemishes on an otherwise steady afternoon. Hyde said Kremer came out a “little sluggish” as he allowed six hits and struck out five batters in seven innings.
Cionel Perez replaced Kremer in the eighth, striking out Yordan Alvarez before Kyle Tucker singled into center. Perez put out another but an error placed two runners on base and Yennier Cano replaced him.
Cano couldn’t stop one run from scoring before Jeremy Peña entered the batter’s box. With two runners still on, Cano got ahead before two other pitches bounced in the dirt, resulting in a 2-2 count.
Cano kept his cool, firing a 98.4 mph sinker low and away. Peña bit, stumbling out of the batter’s box as he missed another opportunity to cut Baltimore’s lead.
Félix Bautista allowed another run to score in the ninth, bringing the Astros within one, but with a runner on third he forced weak contact from Jon Singleton. Henderson made the catch with ease in shallow left, keeping the sweepless streak intact.
“It doesn’t matter if we lost Game 1 or Game 2,” Kremer said.
The Orioles’ lead in the AL East grew to three games when Tampa Bay lost 5-2 to St. Louis on Thursday night. They also lead Texas by three games for the best record in the American League.