Baltimore Orioles and KC Royals: Throw Out the Script


The opening game of the American League Championship Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals was one that could make a sportswriter dropkick his computer across the room and throw up his hands in despair.

And I am not saying that because the team I cover was beaten 8-6 in 10 innings. As writers we spend time observing, reading, analyzing, and then writing about what we believe is going to happen or is likely to happen based upon what has occurred in the past.

Final. 6. 11. 8. 7

Just take the preview script for this series and use it for something more productive. Do you have a new puppy? Use the script for coving the floor for housebreaking it. Do you have a wood stove? The script would be a good fire starter to light the kindling.

The script proved worthless.

The Orioles have all the power – more than twice as many home runs and runs scored on homers. Kansas City 3, Baltimore 0.

The Royals have all the speed. Baltimore – two stolen bases, KC – none, with one caught stealing.

The Orioles pitching and bullpen does not give up careless runs.  But KC was given seven walks and a hit batsman, and the Royals’ leadoff hitter was only retired three times in 10 innings!

The Orioles defense makes all the plays and does not give up careless runs. But one play – probably forgotten by most people – was the critical non-play of the game.

Buck Showalter is a genius when using his bullpen. But his pitching changes throughout this game were very questionable, though he can’t make pitchers throw strikes.

Let’s start with the starter Chris Tillman. He simply had a poor night, giving up five runs in 4.1 innings. It was an evening where he could not find command over much of anything. A ball left up in the zone to Alcides Escobar was the first of many bad misses, and the Royals’ shortstop put it into the left-field seats for a 1-0 lead in the third inning.

But the back-breaking play was actually a play not executed. In the top of the third inning, after Escobar’s home run, a single and walk put runners at second and third with two outs. Billy Butler hit a ground ball to deep short.  J.J. Hardy hurried the throw more than necessary – bouncing it to first base where Steve Pearce simply did not pick it at all.

The play was ruled as a base hit, but it was one that should have been made and has been made by Hardy (or Pearce) dozens and dozens of times. Alex Gordon would next double on a strange broken-bat fly down the right-field line that would clear the bases and give the Royals a 4-0 lead. Tillman should have been out of the inning.

But the Orioles would battle back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game in the sixth inning at 5-5. They would take this even score to the ninth inning where Zach Britton was called into the game. He pitched like a guy who looked to have flown across the country and back this past week and been through the trauma of a childbirth. Britton walked the bases loaded with none out, but Darren O’Day would lead the O’s out of the inning without a score against them.

With the 2-3-4 hitters coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the stars were aligned for a Baltimore victory, right?  A team cannot expect to win a game when they walk the first three guys in the top of the ninth and then strikeout 1-2-3 in the bottom of the frame.

Matusz looked like a pitcher who had not pitched in a couple of weeks.

If Alex Gordon dumped a cheap ball down the line in the third inning, in the top of the 10th he got all of an O’Day pitch to put the Royals ahead 6-5. Brian Matusz would come in and look like a guy who has not pitched in several weeks, surrendering a two-run homer to Mike Moustakas. This was unfortunate, as the Orioles managed a run in the bottom of the 10th that might otherwise have extended the game.

There were moments and scenarios where the Orioles could have won this game. They out-hit the Royals 14-12. But this was not a game that Baltimore should have won – not with putting 20 runners on base.

As different as the two teams are in many respects, they each share the capacity to fight back tenaciously. The Orioles did that, even with two outs in the 10th inning. This series is far from over, even as we acknowledge that this was a difficult loss.

The Orioles will be back at 4:07 Saturday for game two, and we’ll have more to say about all that is happening.