Baltimore Orioles reliever Darren O'Day talks about giving up the go-ahead home run in the 8-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
If the soggy opener of the American League Championship Series proved anything, it is that there is no sense in trying to generalize about two teams that have spent this postseason defying baseball logic.
The Kansas City Royals are supposed to be the team that doesn't hit for power, so they jumped out in front in Game 1 on a home run by a guy, Alcides Escobar, who had three home runs in the regular season and won the game on extra-inning blasts by Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas. They are known for their speed but scored eight runs Friday night without stealing a single base.
The Orioles were the most power-happy team in the majors during the regular season, but they never challenged the dimensions of Camden Yards on the way to a loss that essentially ceded home-field advantage in the best-of-seven playoff series. They are not known for their speed, but had the only two stolen bases in the game.
Incongruity was the order of the evening, and it didn't stop with the fractured power-speed dichotomy. Both teams sent their rested No. 1 starters to the mound; neither saw the sixth inning. Both are considered among the best defensive teams in either league, and — you guessed it — both had moments of fielding mediocrity.
"That’s why you play the game," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said afterward. "You never know what’s going to happen."
Maybe it was first-night jitters, or maybe these teams really are as evenly matched as the oddsmakers indicated when they had both this week as co-favorites to win the World Series.
It certainly didn't look like that early on, when the Royals were knocking starter Chris Tillman around in a four-run third inning. It looked like they were ready to answer the question hanging over this series since the matchup was set earlier this week:
Which of these teams really has the baseball gods on speed dial?
Clearly, the Royals still have it going on. They've won six straight postseason games, starting with that big comeback against the Oakland Athletics in the AL wild-card round and including three straight ALDS victories over the Los Angeles Angels, who happened to be the winningest team in baseball before they got their bats handed to them.
When Tillman gave up that rare homer to Alcides and lost the strike zone long enough to set himself up for a funny-looking, broken-bat double by Gordon that led to three runs, well, it was certainly fair to wonder whether they had left all their mojo in Detroit.
Before long, the Royals would be wondering where theirs went, too, as ace starter James Shields began to unravel and the Orioles offense brought the orange-clad announced sellout crowd of 47,124 — its enthusiasm and outerwear both slightly dampened — back into the conversation.
Right fielder Nick Markakis and left fielder Alejandro De Aza opened the fifth inning with singles and Nelson Cruz — who else? — lined a double off the left-field fence to bring home the Orioles' second run. It looked like that might be it after the Orioles loaded the bases and shortstop J.J. Hardy struck out looking, but third baseman Ryan Flaherty lined a two-run single to right, and it was a game again.
The game would be tied an inning later, finally conforming to what everyone had expected, with the starting pitchers gone and the two vaunted bullpens set to face off for the rest of the night.
Even that did not go as expected. The first Royals reliever, Brandon Finnegan, gave up the tying run in the sixth, and Orioles closer Zach Britton spun dramatically and completely out of control in a ninth inning that featured another in a series of great postseason bullpen escapes.
For most of the season, the Orioles have been Team Counterintuitive, but it was always a good thing. They showed tremendous resilience after every major setback, and there were a boatload of them.
On this night, however, there were too many moments when they just could not get out of their own way, which means they will need to tap into their amazing ability to overcome adversity at least one more time.
"It was a good ballgame, except the Orioles didn't win,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm sure it was entertaining."