The Orioles' four-game series against the Kansas City Royals this week marks the first time the teams have met since last year's American League Championship Series, but for these reeling Orioles, it's much more than a reunion.
After a four-game sweep at home by the Minnesota Twins, time is running out. The Orioles haven't played well on the road all season, and a poor showing at Kauffman Stadium against a Royals team with the best record in the league could sink the Orioles' playoff hopes.
Monday night's series opener ended in an all-too-familiar way, with the Orioles squandering another lead, falling victim to a nightmare seven-run sixth inning in an 8-3 loss to the Royals before an announced 27,797.
The Orioles (62-62) have lost five straight games and six of their past seven. They're back at .500 for the first time since July 27 and 25-37 on the road this season. After Monday's loss, the Orioles are 21/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
“We're grown men, not kids,” said center fielder Adam Jones, who hit his 24th homer of the season and scored two of the Orioles' three runs. “We can't go around here and yell and scream at somebody like you do kids. Hey, we're grown men. We know what we need to do. We know the objective. We know how to do it. We're major league players. We're the cream of the crop. So we just really just have to jell and get it done. There ain't no other way.”
All seven runs in the sixth inning — and the six charged to starter Ubaldo Jimenez — were scored with two outs. The seven runs and eight hits were the most the Orioles have allowed in an inning this season.
“I thought [Jimenez] was carrying a good, crisp fastball the whole game, but we had five hits,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You always tip your hat to the opposition, but you get a little tired of doing that. … They pitched well, and we didn't swing the bats well. Our guys are pushing, and they know we've got to get it going. It's not usually a good recipe against good pitchers.”
Jimenez took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning before Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hit an 0-1 sinker into the right-field seats to tie the game, bringing the home crowd to life with “Moose” chants.
It got worse from there. Salvador Perez reached on an infield single when shortstop Ryan Flaherty, playing for injured starter J.J. Hardy, made a diving stop but couldn't make the throw to first. Alex Rios followed with a double down the left-field line to put two runners in scoring position.
No. 9 hitter Omar Infante, the weak link in a loaded Royals lineup, then hit a triple into the left-center-field gap, scoring two more runs. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop's relay throw sailed over Manny Machado at third, allowing Infante to score for the Royals (76-48).
“I probably started leaving the ball a little bit up in the zone, and they started putting a good swing on it,” Jimenez said. “I don't think the pitch to Moustakas was a bad pitch. That's what I wanted to throw, the pitch up and in. The big mistake I made was [the] 0-2 pitch to Infante. It was supposed to be up and in; I left it right down the middle.
“That's what hurt the most. Especially, I have Infante 0-2, supposed to put him away. But I made a big mistake.”
Jimenez was replaced after allowing a single to Alcides Escobar, the fifth straight two-out hit, but right-hander Brad Brach gave up a single to Ben Zobrist before Lorenzo Cain singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to put the Royals up 8-3.
The rally came after Jimenez had retired nine straight Kansas City hitters.
The seven runs and 10 hits Jimenez allowed tied his season highs. Jimenez (9-8) has failed to go six innings in six of his eight starts since the All-Star break, posting a 7.65 ERA in that span after having a 2.81 ERA in his 17 first-half starts.
The Orioles seemed on their way to reversing their fortunes early on. After being scored upon first in 10 of their previous 12 games, they took a 2-0 first-inning lead off Royals starter Kris Medlen (2-0).
Machado opened the game by hitting a ball into the right-center-field gap. Cain initially was credited with a catch on the play, but the Orioles challenged the call. Replays showed that Cain lost the ball and that it hit off the wall before he recovered it.
Machado was placed on second base, and two batters later, Jones hit his mammoth blast to left field.
After the Royals scored a run in the third, the Orioles went up 3-1 when Steve Clevenger (Mount Saint Joseph) doubled in Jones in the fourth, but Clevenger was hung up between second and third to empty the bases.
The Orioles went hitless after Clevenger's double. Medlen retired the final seven batters he faced, allowing three runs over six innings. Left-hander Franklin Morales retired all six batters in the seventh and eighth, and Luke Hochevar had a perfect ninth.
“Well, they got into a groove once Medlen got into a groove,” Jones said. “After Clevenger hit that double, he got into a groove. He settled down, and before his outing was over, he got eight or nine straight. And we all know what that bullpen can do.”