Wei-Yin Chen's plan heading into Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday was to keep the ball down and pitch as long he could.
The Orioles starting pitcher accomplished the first goal, but, in a tense battle with the can't-go-wrong Kansas City Royals, Chen didn't get through the sixth in a 2-1 loss — his first postseason defeat in the major leagues.
If it were a regular season game, Chen, who threw just 80 pitches, would have been given a longer leash. But after allowing two singles in a tied game in the sixth, Orioles manager Buck Showalter pulled the Taiwanese lefty to bring in fireballing rookie Kevin Gausman. One sacrifice fly later and the Orioles, essentially, were staring at a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven ALCS.
“I'm not upset about my performance because this is the playoffs and Buck has his plans,” Chen said through an interpreter. “So I just try to do my job and, unfortunately, we lost again. That's what matters.”
Chen bounced back from his first start of this postseason, a no-decision against the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the American League Division Series in which he allowed five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Chen allowed seven hits and a walk in 5 1/3 innings Tuesday; both runs charged to him scored on outs. He retired nine of the first 11 batters he faced, but ran into trouble in the fourth when he loaded the bases with one out on a walk and two bloop singles. Alex Gordon's ground out scored the Royals' first run, making it 1-1 and wiping out the Orioles' lone lead of this series.
“They pitched us a little bit better, not much,” Showalter said. “Wei-Yin, tough luck. Made a couple really good pitches … and didn't get much to show for it.”
Entering the sixth, Chen had thrown an economical 71 pitches. He was in a good position to go fairly deep, but he ran into an old nemesis, Royals outfielder Nori Aoki, who was 2-for-9 versus Chen in the majors. But the two have a long history against each other dating back to Japan, where Aoki hit nearly .400 against Chen. He lined a single to center to lead off the sixth.
“In that at-bat, the pitch to Aoki, he got a hit, it was kind of a mistake. And after that I didn't think about it too much,” Chen said. “It was just one guy that got on base. I was just trying to get the next guy out.”
Royals manager Ned Yost then brought in the speedy Jarrod Dyson to pinch run for Aoki. Chen did a nice job keeping Dyson at first while striking out Lorenzo Cain. But Eric Hosmer followed with a sharp single past a diving Steve Pearce, who had been trying to keep Dyson close to first base.
“He hit it hard. Lefty on a fastball and as I'm holding the bag,” Pearce said. “It's tough to get off and read the ball.”
Dyson dashed to third and Chen walked slowly off the mound. Orioles-killer Billy Butler hit a sacrifice fly against Gausman to score Dyson, the eventual game-winner.
Chen, who became the first Taiwanese pitcher to start an ALCS game, will almost assuredly get another chance to play for the Orioles next year. The club has a reasonable, $4.75 million contract option that will almost certainly be picked up. But the 16-game winner has likely thrown his last pitch of 2014, thanks to a red-hot Royals team.
“They've just been finding ways to get it done,” Pearce said. “They are on that wave right now. When you're on that wave, when you feel unbeatable, it's a great feeling to have as a ball club, I'll tell you that.”