Orioles send Astros crashing back to Earth

Chris Tillman fired seven strong innings and the Baltimore Orioles put an end to the Houston Astros' string of six straight wins with a 4-1 victory at Minute Maid Park to open a three-game series between the clubs.

The American League bottom-feeding Astros had returned home off a 6-0 road trip, but Tillman (5-2) halted that momentum by yielding just one run and four hits to go along with a season-best eight strikeouts.

"He had a lot of pitches working for him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman. "That kept them from sitting on him."

He had support from the last two spots of the Orioles' batting order, with Ryan Flaherty going 2-for-4 with an RBI single and Danny Valencia cracking a solo homer in Baltimore's fifth triumph in its last six tests.

The Orioles also scored a pair of runs off Houston errors that helped spoil a solid seven-inning performance from Astros starter Lucas Harrell.

Harrell (4-7) held Baltimore to two runs -- one earned -- and five hits while fanning six without a walk in the hard-luck defeat.

Brandon Barnes had two of the Astros' five hits, including a solo homer off Tillman in the sixth inning.

"(Harrell) kept us in the ballgame, but we couldn't get that big hit," Barnes said.

Valencia broke a scoreless deadlock with an opposite-field blast to open the third inning. Manny Machado doubled two batters later, took third on a Harrell wild pitch, then came home when Astros first baseman Chris Carter mishandled Adam Jones' two-out grounder for a 2-0 Baltimore edge.

Harrell shut the Orioles down thereafter, giving up just one more hit and wrapping up his stint with 10 consecutive outs.

Tillman, tagged for four homers over 4 2/3 innings in a loss to Washington on Wednesday, surrendered a single to Barnes to begin his night, then didn't allow another hit until Barnes sent a fastball well over the wall in left to put Houston on the board in the bottom of the sixth. The Baltimore righty had set down 12 hitters in a 13-man span prior to the blast.

The Astros managed only two more singles against Tillman and relievers Tommy Hunter and Jim Johnson the rest of the way, and the Orioles created some distance with single runs in the final two frames.

Nate McLouth single-handedly put the Orioles up 3-1 after singling off Wesley Wright to start the eighth and stealing both second and third, with Astros catcher Jason Castro throwing errantly on the final attempt to allow him to cross the plate.

Flaherty followed a J.J. Hardy double in the ninth with a run-scoring single to complete the scoring, and Johnson worked around a single in the ninth to post his 19th save.

Game Notes

Baltimore has prevailed in seven straight meetings with the Astros, but had never previously won in Houston. The O's were swept in a three-game set in their only prior visit to Minute Maid Park in June of 2003 ... Tillman improved to 10-1 in 12 career starts against AL West teams and is now 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA in five road assignments this season ... The Orioles, who lead the majors in home runs (82), have now put up at least two extra-base hits in 32 consecutive games ... Houston fell to 9-22 at home, the worst mark in the majors.