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Bullpen Meltdown Deals a Crushing Blow to Astros Title Chances. Fall to Orioles 8-7

Ryan Pressly blows a two run lead in the ninth after Astros make numerous comebacks

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins (31) hits a three-run home run during the ninth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This was a crushing loss. In a see-saw game where each team came from behind to tie or take the lead numerous times, all the Astros had to do to win was hold a two run lead in the ninth to gain another game in the AL West.

Instead, yet another Ryan Pressly meltdown cost the Astros dearly in a game that figured to be the Astros’ best chance to win in this series.

The Astros struck first against Orioles starter John Means with a lead off double by Jose Altuve off the top of the left field wall followed by a Kyle Tucker RBI double.

But the Orioles got it back quickly against Astros starter Justin Verlander. Gunnar Henderson tripled and scored on an Adley Rutschnam sac fly. The inning could have been worse if not for the five-star catch by left fielder Chas McCormick.

The Orioles took a 3-1 lead in the fifth after a Ryan O’Hearn two-out bloop single scored runners from second and third, both of whom singled to get on base.

But the Astros took a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning starting with a Kyle Tucker triple, who scored on a McCormick single. McCormick got to third after a stolen base and wild pitch and he scored on a Jeremy Pena single. Mauricio Dubon walked, and scored with Pena on a two-out Altuve double.

However, the Orioles took revenge in the seventh inning tying the score off Rafael Montero. Henderson led off with a single and scored on a Rutschman double. Rutschman got to third on a O’Hearn line drive single off Montero’s foot, Rutschman then scored on a Cedric Mullin double, but the Astros got the second out throwing O’Hearn out at home trying to score from first. Montero closed the inning with a K.

(Enquiring minds wonder why Montero was used against the toughest part of the Orioles lineup with the Neris, Abreu, Pressly trio ready to finish the game. Is Abreu injured?)

But the Astros got the lead back with a Jose Abreu 425 foot solo homer to center field.

Since August 26th, Abreu has a 126 wRC+ not including tonight’s double and home run, and six homers, including tonight’s. Maybe the old man, free agent “mistake,” still has some juice.

Hector Neris did make an appearance in the eighth. All three outs were Ks, including ones to pinch hitter Anthony Santander and red-hot Henderson to end the inning after being down 3-0.

In the bottom of the eighth the Astros added another run on a 430 foot Martin Maldonado home run. Some of us questioned why Maldonado wasn’t pinch hit for in the fifth inning with a runner on second and two outs. Dusty has bragging rights on this call.

With a two-run lead, the Astros looked to be ready to close out a hard-fought victory.

It was not to be.

So-called closer Ryan Pressly blew his two run lead in the ninth after two singles and a three run homer to Cedric Mullins. (Is this a nightmare?)

In the Astros’ half of the ninth, it looked bad when Yordan Alvarez hit a weak grounder to shortstop. But hope returned when a throwing error put him on second base, and an Abreu flyout sacrificed the pinch runner, Jake Meyers, to third.

But some say, hope is not really a virtue.

A Tucker groundout and a McCormick strikeout ended the threat. And kept the stress on the Astros. Not just stress about the Division Title, but even the unspeakable.

The Astros still hold a one and a half lead in the AL West as the Rangers lost to the Red Sox. It looks like the Mariners will gain a game by beating the A’s. The race for the AL West title is looking like a race to the bottom. At this rate the winner will fall behind the AL Central champ.

The recriminations begin. With a faltering starting rotation, is Ryan Pressly, 2023 edition, with five losses and six blown saves, closer material? His breaking balls were not breaking tonight.

And I’d like to hear what Dusty says about leaving Bryan Abreu in the bullpen.

Justin Verlander did manage a quality start with three runs allowed in six innings. But he allowed eight hits and a walk. Meanwhile, the Astros were outhit 16-10.

The Astros are not used to fighting for Division Titles. They have lost six of their last ten games, four of those to the two worst teams in baseball. The Astros can’t keep losing games in which they score seven or more runs.

Tomorrow is another day. Maybe Hunter Brown can repeat his strong performance in his last outing, albeit against a much weaker team than the Orioles.

7:10 CT tomorrow

Box score here