The words delivered in the Orioles clubhouse after another jaw-busting, late-inning loss to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series belied the otherwise eerie silence that punctuated the room.
Bounce around from player to player after Saturday’s 6-4 loss in Game 2 and, no matter who you talk to, the refrain remains the same. It’s only two losses. These Orioles are great on the road. They have overcome so much adversity, what’s a little more?
“It’s tough, it’s a hole,” Orioles reliever Darren O’Day said. “But it is not unprecedented.”
There’s the rub. What these Orioles face -- heading on the road for three ALCS games already trailing by two in a best-of-seven matchup -- is unprecedented for a World Series club. Since both League Championship Series switched from five- to seven-game formats in 1985, 11 teams have lost their first two at home. None has advanced to the Fall Classic.
“The series ain’t over,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “If you guys are thinking it’s over, why are we going to show up on Monday?”
The Orioles won 96 games and the AL East when the public perception was that it was a solid but unspectacular club. They beat three straight Cy Young Award winners to sweep the Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series and gain home-field advantage for the rest of the postseason.
Everything seemed to be lining up for the Orioles to make their first World Series in 31 years, except that they have had to face a Royals team that seems to be the Orioles’ equal in nearly every way.
Saturday’s 4-hour, 17-minute loss before a sellout, towel-waving, slogan-chanting, announced crowd of 46,912 at Camden Yards brought that point into clearer focus.
The sides traded blows for eight innings, locked in a 4-4 battle until the Royals scored twice in the ninth against O’Day and closer Zach Britton. It was the second consecutive game in which the Royals have snapped ties in the late innings against the Orioles’ vaunted bullpen. On Friday, O’Day and Brian Matusz served up homers in the 10th inning in an 8-6 defeat.
Saturday was perhaps more deflating. The Royals won by using dinks and dunks and seeing-eye hits that seem to be flaunted each year by the so-called teams of destiny.
“They did a good job of putting the ball in play, and once that happens, you can’t control what the ball does or what happens. So credit them for doing that,” said O’Day, who lost two games all season and now has lost two on consecutive evenings in the playoffs. “Threw some good pitches, but I’ll wear the loss. That’s fine.”
To start the ninth, O’Day allowed a leadoff, 40-foot single by Omar Infante. Britton entered in relief and, after a sacrifice bunt, Alcides Escobar slapped a sinker beyond the first-base bag for an RBI double. After third baseman Ryan Flaherty misplayed a difficult high chopper for an error, Lorenzo Cain singled through a drawn-in infield for a second run.
Britton got what he wanted; the balls just didn’t get into gloves.
“I got ground balls. Beat Escobar, he just hit it right down the line. I can’t do anything about that ground ball,” said Britton, who pitched much better Saturday than he did Friday when he walked three and recorded just one out. “And Cain, another ground ball. What can you do?”
After the Royals took the two-run lead, closer Greg Holland made it stand up with a scoreless ninth. The Orioles have now played 19 innings in the ALCS and never once had the lead.
“You've got to get to a tie when you're behind before you can take the lead,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You spend so much energy and concentration trying to get back to that point, it's hard to take that next step. But I think about a hundred percent of that is what they're doing, not what we're not doing.”
What the Royals are doing is everything.
The Royals are chasing the Orioles starter early.
Norris gave up four runs and lasted just 4 1/3 innings. He’s the second consecutive Orioles starter to fail to get out of the fifth inning -- Chris Tillman also lasted 4 1/3 innings Friday in Game 1 of the ALCS. In five postseason games this year, the Orioles rotation has allowed 16 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings (6.09 ERA). That’s particularly disconcerting considering this group had a 3.61 ERA in the regular season, fifth-best in the major leagues.
The Royals are limiting the Orioles’ powerful offense.
Jones had a two-run homer in the third against Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura -- his first in the postseason in 11 games dating back to 2012. It was also the first by the Orioles in the ALCS after leading the majors in longballs during the season.
The Royals are also playing great defense and using their tremendous bullpen to get key outs.
In closely matched games that have lasted nearly nine hours combined, Kansas City is edging out the Orioles in just about every aspect.
“We definitely had opportunities, we let them slip away,” said Jones, who had a key, three-pitch strikeout with two on and no outs in the seventh, an inning in which the Orioles ultimately stranded the bases loaded. “We’re not playing against some slouches. We are playing against a good defensive team, so they play for 27 outs.”
The question is whether the Orioles can outlast the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, where the clubs split a four-game series in May. The Orioles were 46-35 (.568 winning percentage) on the road in the regular season. And they’ve been beating the odds all year.
But if they don’t win at least two-of-three in Kansas City, their “We Won’t Stop” season will come to a screeching halt before the series can return to Camden Yards next Friday.
“We are road warriors anyway, right? So let’s go do what we got to do in K.C.,” Jones said. “It’s not easy. It never was easy, but we’ve got no choice.”