By DAVID GINSBURG
BALTIMORE (AP) — One good start deserves another — and then another.
The Baltimore Orioles have received a string of exceptional performances from their starting rotation, and these razor-sharp hurlers are equally efficient against last-place teams and the best club in the American League.
Dean Kremer pitched a four-hitter, Adley Rutschman homered and the Orioles kept themselves squarely in the playoff hunt by defeating the Houston Astros 6-0 Friday night.
The victory, combined with Seattle’s loss to Kansas City, moved Baltimore within three games of the Mariners in the race for the third and final AL wild-card spot. It’s been an uplifting season for an Orioles team that went 52-110 last year, Baltimore will need to remain hot and get some help to reach the postseason for the first time since 2016.
It all starts with pitching.
Kremer (8-5) walked two, struck out six and did not allow a runner past second base in his first career complete game. Last season, the 26-year-old righty was 0-7 for Baltimore.
It was the third straight impressive performance by an Orioles starter, following Jordan Lyles’ three-hitter against Detroit and Kyle Bradish pitching into the ninth inning of a shutout against AL West-champion Houston on Thursday night.
“It’s contagious,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Maybe Bradish saw what Jordan did, and Dean saw what Bradish and Jordan did and just wanted to keep it going.”
Baltimore has 15 shutouts this season — its most since 1992 — including three against Houston. In spite of their success this season, the Astros are 1-4 against Baltimore and have been outscored 14-4.
“They pitched great against us,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said “We don’t like it. We’re not happy about it, but sometimes things don’t go your way. They’ve pretty much taken it to us the past couple of days.”
After Jordan dominated the cellar-dwelling Tigers, Bradish and Kremer followed suit against the Astros.
“It’s been really fun to see Jordan do it and to see Kyle go into the ninth and for me to do it,” Kremer said. “It’s indescribable. It’s a nice breather for the bullpen as well. It’s been really fun.”
Rutschman’s 12th home run staked the Orioles to a 1-0 lead against José Urquidy (13-8). Baltimore pulled away with a five-run seventh against the Houston bullpen.
Houston (99-53) has already clinched the division and is on pace to enter the postseason with the best record in the AL. The Astros need eight more wins to match the franchise single-season record, set in 2019.
But this was one of those nights that very little went right.
Urquidy gave up one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. He left with two on in the sixth, and Baltimore eventually loaded the bases with two outs against Bryan Abreu.
Gunnar Henderson then hit a sharp grounder that third baseman Alex Bregman snagged with a backhand pickup while shifted into the hole. His off-balance throw was on time, keeping the score 1-0.
But the Orioles broke it open in the seventh against Hector Neris, getting a two-run single from Cedric Mullins and an RBI double from Rutschman in the pivotal inning.
Houston’s Jose Altuve led off the game by hitting a sharp grounder inside the third base line that rolled into the left-field corner. He was cut down trying to stretch it into a triple, and the Astros got only one runner to second base the rest of the way.
Baker still need one more victory to join Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa and Whitey Herzog as the only managers in big league history to win 100 games in a single season in both the AL and NL.
Astros: Altuve returned to action after missing Thursday night’s game with a sore left elbow, an injury that occurred when he was hit by a pitch Wednesday against Tampa Bay. “What Altuve wants, Altuve gets, and he wants to play,” Baker said. … OF Kyle Tucker was given the night off.
Orioles: RHP Tyler Wells was placed on the 15-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation and appears done for the season. Wells gave up five runs in three innings against Detroit on Monday, then complained of a sore shoulder on Tuesday. RHP Spenser Watkins was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk and will be used initially in long relief. … INF Ramón Urías was scratched from the starting lineup with neck and back spasms.
Astros: RHP Framber Valdez (16-5, 2.57 ERA) starts Saturday night against the Orioles. He is 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his last seven outings.
Orioles: RHP Mike Baumann (1-3, 4.29) makes his third career start
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