KANSAS CITY, Mo.
— Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel was the first to admit that his start against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night wasn’t pretty.
But for Hammel, who battled inconsistency through the first half of the season, gave the Orioles a chance to extend their season-high winning streak at Kauffman Stadium.
And after being foiled by soft-tossing Royals left-hander Bruce Chen for six innings, the Orioles had the tying run on third base with no outs in the ninth inning but left it stranded in a 3-2 loss to Kansas City in front of an announced crowd of 19,072, snapping the Orioles' season-high five game winning streak.
"You call it a battle, I call it a war," Hammel said.
In each of their first four games since the All-Star break, the Orioles jumped out to early leads and went on to win behind superb starting pitching. For most of the night, the Orioles offense sputtered, managing just three hits off Chen over six innings. The Orioles averaged 15 hits over their past three games heading into Tuesday's game, but tallied just five hits Tuesday.
"Trust me, we wish we could take some runs from yesterday's game and add them to this game and give Hammel a little run support, but we were unable to do that," said center fielder Adam Jones, who hit an RBI triple in the ninth to pull the Orioles within one run. "He never makes excuses and he always goes to battle for us. He put us in a great position to win the game."
With the Boston Red Sox's 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles (57-44) dropped to 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox in the American League East standings.
Right-hander Jason Hammel allowed 14 base runners through six innings, allowing three runs on 10 hits. Hammel stranded 10 runners on base, mostly because of the Royals anemic 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
"We still had a chance to win when it's all said and done," Hammel said. "It's not always going to be pretty and tonight was one of those ugly ones. We still had a chance to win. So it's disappointing we lost, but it was a good ballgame."
Hammel dodged danger throughout the night. He allowed at least three base runners in each of the first three innings, including allowing the first three batters on base in both the first and third innings. But the Royals (46-51) plated just three runs in those innings.
"All three innings, they could have gotten out of hand real fast," Hammel said. "And early too. As much as I did there, Chen threw a better game. He kept our guys off balance, executed his pitches. A lot of guys take him for granted, he's not throwing too hard. He knows how to pitch. So, hats off to him."
Hammel, the Orioles' Opening Day starter, still recorded his first quality start in nearly a month – he held the Indians to two runs over seven innings on June 26 – but walked a season-high four batters.
"It's still a challenge for him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Hammel's fastball command. "But he's a guy who works real hard in his work day and in between. He can really impress you on his work day; he just hasn't been as consistent in the game as he's capable of. I think once he gets a couple games under his belt he might get back to the level he's spoiled us at. A lot of pitchers in the major leagues would have liked to have had the outing he had tonight."
Chen, who was making his second start of the season after previously working in long relief, allowed one run on three hits over six innings. He retired the final 10 batters he faced, not allowing a hit after Manny Machado's third-inning solo homer, his eighth of the season.
"He just keeps you off balance," Jones said. "He never gives in. It's a true testament to how he's maintained and stayed around as long as he has. He's not tricking you because he cant blow it by anybody. He just makes his pitches. …I was sitting out in center field wondering how we only had three hits. How? But he makes his pitches and you have to respect that."
The Orioles' ninth-inning rally against Royals All-Star closer Greg Holland fell just short. After Nick Markakis led of the frame with a single – the Orioles' first hit since the third inning -- Jones hit an RBI triple into the left-center field gap to place the tying run 90 feet away with no outs.
The Orioles had three opportunities to tie the game, but home run leader Chris Davis struck out, J.J. Hardy grounded out to third and rookie Henry Urrutia ended the game grounding out to first.
"We grind to the last out is made," Jones said. "We came in and put ourselves in a situation to tie the game off Holland. Obviously, he's an all-star. I looked at his numbers. He's got some great numbers. He got himself in a little jam but he was able to get out of it with some big outs. At the end of the day, we put ourselves in that situation."