HOUSTON -- Baltimore right-hander Miguel Gonzalez
spent the previous month laboring to no avail, having so little to show for three effective outings that his sole recourse was to be even better than he had been.
Gonzalez did precisely that on Thursday, stifling the Houston Astros
to lead the Orioles to a 3-1 win in the rubber game of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Gonzalez, who endured a winless May in which he received precious little run support, surrendered five hits, including a first-inning double by Jason Castro
that positioned Houston (22-39) to take a 1-0 lead.
From that point, he flirted with dominance.
Gonzalez (3-2) struck out seven and issued one walk, an intentional pass to Castro in the third, in six innings. After throwing 95 pitches, he was lifted for Darren O'Day, who needed work after three days off.
"Our pitching staff has been doing a great job and the relievers did their jobs today coming in," Gonzalez said. "O'Day did a good job and also B-Mat (Brian Matusz) and J.J. (Jim Johnson) finished it off. It was a good win."
The Orioles (34-26) provided Gonzalez with just seven runs of support in four May starts. They weren't much better on Thursday, but a three-run fourth against Astros right-hander Bud Norris
(5-5) proved sufficient.
After stranding two runners in scoring position in the second, Norris failed to escape the fourth unscathed after Chris Davis and Adam Jones
reached on a single and a double, with Davis scoring on Jones' first run-scoring hit of the series. Two batters later, shortstop J.J. Hardy delivered the second of his four hits, an RBI single to right field that scored Jones.
Right fielder Chris Dickerson, who reached on a fielder's choice and scampered from first to third on a base hit by second baseman Ryan Flaherty that trickled into shallow center, later scored on a wild pitch.
Hardy capped a series of three consecutive multi-hit games by going 4-for-4, his first four-hit game of the season. Davis finished 2-for-4.
"You look at today's game, I hit three ground balls that happened to get hits," said Hardy, who has hit safely in five consecutive games. "It's not something that you make a huge deal out of, but I'll take them."
With O'Day, Matusz and Johnson, who picked up his 20th save, combining to work three scoreless innings in relief, Baltimore improved to 9-11 in series finales and 7-3 in rubber matches of three-game series.
Norris had been impeccable at Minute Maid Park, posting the lowest home ERA (1.83) since the start of the 2012 season. He overcame his hiccup in the fourth to log at least seven innings for the fourth time in his last seven starts and matched his season high with seven strikeouts.
"I felt alright today; I worked well with Castro," Norris said. "I definitely made a bad pitch to Jones, and some of the balls just fell in for them. It was a tough one for us.
"I thought we played well this series, and I thought we played really good baseball. Right now, we just want to keep that going on the road (during a six-game trip through Kansas City and Seattle)."
After Castro advanced Brandon Barnes to third base with his first-inning double, J.D. Martinez followed with a sacrifice fly to right field, a ball that Dickerson tracked down adroitly despite giving an initial impression that it might clear the fence for a two-run homer.
Houston put just two additional runners in scoring position, including pushing Carlos Pena to second base with one out in the ninth. But pinch hitter Carlos Corporan grounded into a game-ending double play, capping a series in which the Astros bookended two one-run outputs around an 11-run, six-homer outburst on Wednesday.
"That's baseball; things happen," Barnes said. "Bud went out there today, gave everything he had and pitched a great game, but we just fell short.
"He (Gonzalez) mixed things up real well today. He threw his pitches well in and out, up and down. He really had his fastball going today."
NOTES: Orioles third baseman Manny Machado has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 road games, including a single in the seventh inning. ... Norris had not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his previous seven home starts this season.
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