At this point, the Orioles don’t need magic. They need a miracle.
For a franchise that has waited so long to be in this spotlight -- 17 long years since its last trip to the American League Championship Series -- nearing the possibility of an unfortunate end stings. There’s now no room for error. The Orioles’ dream of playing in their first World Series in more than three decades is on the brink of coming to an ugly end.
After their 2-1 loss to the Royals in Game 3 of the ALCS in front of an announced 40,183 at Kauffman Stadium, the Orioles face a now seemingly insurmountable 3-0 hole in the series.
Since the best-of-seven league championship series format began in 1985, 10 teams have fallen behind 3-0, and just one -- the 2004 Boston Red Sox -- has came back to win. For the Orioles, the old “one game at a time” cliché has never been more relevant.
“If we can get one [win] under our belt and get a few things to work our way … we feel like we can get it spinning the other way,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Otherwise, we shouldn't show up tomorrow. I know what our guys in our locker room feel like. They know they’re up against some good competition. But [there’s] always one more opportunity away, which is tomorrow.”
It has been a fine line between winning and losing in the first three games of this series. All three games have been decided by two runs or less. The Orioles were 49-37 in those situations during the regular season.
An Orioles team that led the major leagues in homers has just one in three games. And on Tuesday, the Orioles hitters went quietly into the chilly Kansas City night. After Nick Markakis’ third-inning single, Royals pitchers retired 21 of 22 batters, including 16 straight to end the game.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has four postseason homers, but he turned the momentum of Tuesday’s game with his glove, robbing Steve Pearce of a hit with a diving play into the hole to open the fifth inning. Moustakas also reached into a field box and fell into the stands to snag a pop-up from Adam Jones to open the sixth.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t even see him catch it,” Jones said. “I just seen him fall over and then I’m like, ‘He caught that.’ When things are going good, things are going good. We played three really good games, just really fell short in each of the games. Now we kind of have a good idea of the uphill battle is now. We’ve just got to win.
“We’ve got to win. We’re down 3-0. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. It’s do at this point."
The Royals bullpen didn’t allow a hit in four innings Tuesday. Kansas City closer Greg Holland needed just six pitches to retire the Orioles in the ninth -- making easy work of Jones, Nelson Cruz and Pearce -- sending the crowd into a frenzy.
While the Royals fans celebrated the win loudly through the concourse, the Orioles clubhouse was silent. Steps away, Royals starter and former Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie wore a T-shirt that said, “These O’s ain’t Royal,” in his postgame news conference.
The Royals have backed up the talk, becoming just the third team in major league history to win its first seven postseason games.
On Tuesday, they didn’t get a hit to score a run. The Royals drove in the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Billy Butler in the sixth inning, scoring pinch runner Jarrod Dyson from third base.
After right fielder Nori Aoki opened the sixth with a single, Dyson pinch ran for him and went from first to third on a one-out single by Eric Hosmer. Hosmer’s hit went just past a diving Pearce, who was holding Dyson on to keep him close to the back.
All Butler needed was to hit a routine fly ball, and that’s what he delivered off reliever Kevin Gausman, flying out to left fielder Alejandro De Aza. Dyson scored easily from third on the play.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen lasted just 5 1/3 innings -- the third time in as many games this series that an Orioles starter failed to get through six full innings. He gave up two runs and seven hits.
Leading 1-0, Chen loaded the bases in the fourth, allowing back-to-back bloop singles to Lorenzo Cain and Hosmer, then walking Butler. Alex Gordon then tied the game with an RBI groundout to second.
The Orioles needed 20 innings to take their first lead of the series when Pearce and J.J. Hardy hit back-to-back doubles off Guthrie in the second inning to claim a 1-0 lead.
Even though the Orioles seemed on the verge of breaking through against Guthrie -- including a 32-pitch fourth inning -- they couldn’t muster any more offense against him.
“It was a good start,” Hardy said. “Any time you score first is a good start. He didn’t give us many pitches to hit. He threw the ball well. Their bullpen threw the ball well.”
Early on, the Orioles took advantage of the ballpark's spacious gaps. Pearce recorded his first hit of the series with a one-out double into the left-center-field gaps, and Hardy followed with an RBI double into the right-center-field alley.
Guthrie then walked third baseman Ryan Flaherty on four pitches, but he escaped the inning without further damage, inducing flyouts from No. 8 and 9 hitters Nick Hundley and Jonathan Schoop.
Nick Markakis opened the third with a single, but the Orioles couldn’t take advantage of getting the leadoff runner on base.
Guthrie lasted just five innings, but he didn’t allow a hit after Markakis’ single. Flaherty’s two-out walk in the fourth was the Orioles’ only base runner after that.
Guthrie said Moustakas’ two defensive plays, which both led off innings, were key in giving Kansas City momentum.
“To start an inning off like that, people don’t understand how important that is for a pitcher to get that first out ... plays like that. That turns around the entire inning, that’s a ‘player of the game’-type performance, when someone is able to do that.”
Despite the short start, Guthrie passed the game off to Kansas City’s bullpen, which didn’t allow a base runner. Royals relievers Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland shut the door on the Orioles, each pitching a scoreless inning.
The Orioles left Kauffman Stadium knowing their season could be over within the next 24 hours. After winning an AL East title and 96 games in the regular season, the only game that is promised them now is Wednesday’s Game 4.
“We put ourselves in the best possible situation for the city of Baltimore and Kansas City is doing the same thing for their city,” Jones said. “They’re grinding it out. They got into the playoffs. You never know what can happen when you’re playing with house money.
"Both franchises, we weren’t supposed to be here but we’re here and we’re grinding it out.”