HOUSTON — As Nelson Cruz dropped to the ground, clutching his left hand, the hearts of Baltimore Orioles fans also fell.
Through the first two months of an inconsistent season for the Orioles, Cruz was the one constant. He carried the club’s offense on his broad shoulders, leading the major leagues in home runs and RBI, but when he was hit on the left hand by a pitch from Houston Astros right-hander Scott Feldman, it didn’t look good.
Cruz initially remained in the game as a base runner, but he left before the next half inning. X-rays on Cruz’s left hand were negative, and he is considered day-to-day with what the team called a left hand contusion.
Without their best hitter, the Orioles (28-27) responded Sunday with their finest offensive effort in nearly two weeks as the team’s sleeping bats awoke in a 9-4 victory over the Astros (24-34) in front of an announced 17,022 at Minute Maid Park.
Third baseman Manny Machado hit his first career grand slam, a mammoth blast to left field that capped a six-run sixth inning against Feldman.
David Lough, who had seen his playing time diminish recently and entered the afternoon hitless in his previous 11 at-bats, drove in three runs, matching his previous season total.
The Orioles’ nine runs were three more than they scored in the first three games of the series combined, and they salvaged a split of the four games against the Astros.
Machado entered the day with just three extra-base hits in 109 at-bats, but he took a 2-2 delivery from Feldman well over the left field fence to give the Orioles a 9-1 lead. Machado, who led the American League in doubles last year with 51, also doubled in the third inning and scored.
After Machado’s double, Feldman threw an 87-mph pitch that sailed up and in to Cruz.
Cruz, who leads the majors with 20 homers and 52 RBI, tried to back away from the pitch, but it hit him in the lower part of the left hand. He went down to the ground, holding his hand in obvious pain as Orioles Manager Buck Showalter and head trainer Richie Bancells inspected the injury.
Cruz remained in the game, taking first base and then stealing second on the back half of a double steal, but he was removed in the bottom part of the inning.
Lough put the Orioles up, 2-0, with his first homer of the season in the second, a two-run shot over the right-field fence that came with two outs in the inning.
Leading 3-1, the Orioles opened the sixth inning with four straight singles, the last one an RBI hit by Lough.
After catcher Nick Hundley’s sacrifice fly knocked in another run, the Astros intentionally walked Nick Markakis to load the bases and bring Machado up.
Machado made Houston pay by launching the grand slam against Feldman (3-3), the former Orioles right-hander who signed a three-year, $30 million deal with Houston in the offseason.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (6-2) fell two outs short of giving the Orioles their fourth straight quality start, allowing one run and four hits over 51 / 3 innings. In the four-game series, Orioles starters allowed just four runs over 242 / 3 innings, pitching to a 1.46 ERA.
The Astros scored a run off Brad Brach on Carlos Corporan’s sacrifice fly in the seventh, and Matt Dominguez hit a two-run homer off Preston Guilmet in the eighth.
— Baltimore Sun