HOUSTON -- Lance McCullers fired a complete game and struck out 11 batters without a walk in just his fourth Major League start, riding the support of two Chris Carter home runs in the Astros' 3-1 win over the Orioles on Wednesday.
The first-place Astros (34-20) are off to their best start at the one-third mark of the season in club history.
Carter's two long balls each landed on the train tracks in left, extending his hitting streak to 11 games. George Springer added a line-drive shot to the Crawford Boxes in the sixth, giving McCullers all the run support he'd need to pick up his second Major League win.
"Just pounded the zone early," McCullers said. "They started getting pretty aggressive. [Catcher Jason] Castro and I talked and tried to use that to our advantage. Whatever pitch I throw, try throwing it for a strike. Let them kind of, you know, force the pace of the game."
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez struck out eight but wasn't able to avoid the long ball and was saddled with his fourth loss.
"Miguel was good, he made three mistakes all night," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Gonzalez, who went 6 2/3 innings. "Not much margin for error, and you can say that about a few nights. I'm the first one to tip my hat to a young pitcher. You can see why they are so excited about [McCullers]. It's just that we have figured out a way to beat those guys in the past, and that's something we have to do a better job with."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Carter's back: Carter battled to a full count in his first at-bat before taking Gonzalez deep to left. In the fifth, Gonzalez hung a 2-0 pitch, which Carter again put on the train tracks, this time in center, to push his average above .200.
"It's kind of what you visualize," Hinch said. "We've talked about this over and over [throughout] his season so far. Any given game, he can impact the game, and he did." More >
Gonzalez done in by long ball: The righty put up his second consecutive quality start with nothing to show for it. He struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings, allowing a trio of solo homers. The Orioles have scored just two runs in his last 18 2/3 innings.
"I take one pitch from the whole game, and it was a slider to Springer," Gonzalez said. "We did some other things, we played some defense, the rest is not going our way right now, but things are going to change." More >
O's offense still MIA: Baltimore's lineup continues to be an issue, as the O's recorded double-digit strikeouts and had no answer for McCullers. The Orioles recorded just one hit after the fourth inning and have just four hits and one run over their last 16 innings.
"We try to say we're a high-powered offense. Right now we ain't got no ammo," center fielder Adam Jones said. "It's the game. We go through stretches. ... It's not over. We've got a long way to go."
McCullers didn't issue a walk on Wednesday and kept the Orioles in fits.
Asked if he thinks his club had good at-bats, Showalter said, "No, of course not. ... We didn't sputter down the stretch, we sputtered [all night]. … [Announcer] Gary [Thorne] was asking me about shaking things up. We have and we will continue to try to get better. It's a challenging time for everybody, but it will make us stronger in the longer run. We need to figure it out soon."
Economical McCullers: Though he struggled to keep his pitch count under control in his first three Major League starts, McCullers was conservative late in this one. He sat down the middle of Baltimore's order on just five pitches in the seventh, then came back with a 10-pitch eighth, when he picked up his ninth and 10th strikeouts. He finished with 107 pitches, 73 of them strikes.
"When he gets ahead, he's very, very difficult to pick how he's going to attack you to finish you, but he finished hitters very well," Hinch said. "Obviously, 11 [strikeouts] is going to indicate that a little bit. He was very, very good tonight."
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With the loss, the Orioles are six games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.
The Astros are now 21-0 when they hit multiple home runs in a game.
"It's very easy to start beating up on people, and I'm certainly not going to. This is a challenging time, and this too shall pass. But you want it to happen yesterday. Our guys are a very easy target right now for people, and I won't be a part of that." -- Showalter, on the Orioles tying a season high with their fifth consecutive loss
"He sees opportunity and wants to grab it. Every time he's gone out, there's an approach that is impressive for a brand-new guy at this level and a 21-year-old that looks like he's in total control of the game." -- Hinch, on McCullers' outing and whether it solidifies his spot in the rotation
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: Baltimore will close the four-game series by sending left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to the mound on Thursday at 2:10 p.m. ET. Chen is 1-4 with a 3.21 ERA this season.
Astros: The Astros will turn to American League Pitcher of the Month Dallas Keuchel to get the sweep against Chen, a pitching rematch of the May 25 meeting that ended in Keuchel's only loss. First pitch is at 1:10 p.m. CT.