The continuing battle with Mother Nature is beyond the Royals’ control, but they’d better find a way to fix a suddenly leaky bullpen after Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
Matt Wieters flicked a tie-breaking double to left field in the eighth inning against Luke Hochevar that provided the winning run after Tim Collins put that run on base with a leadoff walk.
“It hit right on the chalk,” said left fielder Alex Gordon, who had no chance for the catch or a play at the plate. “That’s baseball. Good luck for them.”
That “luck” came after the latest hiccup from a bullpen long viewed as one of the club’s chief strengths. It also squelched a possible comeback victory after the Royals pulled even on Gordon’s two-run homer in the seventh.
Collins, 1-1, worked a scoreless seventh inning after replacing starter Ervin Santana but put himself in trouble by starting the eighth with a walk to Adam Jones.
“The leadoff walk is something that is going to get you in trouble just about every time,” manager Ned Yost said. “Especially in a late game, and especially when you’re facing hitters as productive as the Baltimore hitters.”
Collins struck out Chris Davis on a borderline call before the Royals chose to turn Wieters, a switch-hitter, to the left side by bringing in Hochevar, who immediately made things worse with an errant pickoff throw.
The ball was into the runner, hit Jones in the back and skipped away from first baseman Eric Hosmer. Jones moved to second base.
“The throw-away at first was the biggest part of the inning,” Hochevar said. “Giving away extra bases, that can’t happen -- especially in that situation.”
Wieters then sliced a drive to left that fell just fair for a tie-breaking double. Jones scored easily. Wieters also had a two-run double in a three-run first inning against Santana.
“I think I made a decent pitch (to Wieters),” Hochevar said, “but it might have caught too much of the plate. I don’t know if (Jones) scores from first. Not with Gordo out there. That’s why the throw-away was so big.”
Jim Johnson protected the one-run lead with a one-two-three in the ninth for his league-leading 12th save. Tommy Hunter, 2-1, got the victory for 1 ⅓ innings of scoreless relief.
The Royals fell to 17-12 and need a victory Wednesday night -- weather permitting; more rain is in the forecast -- to avoid their first three-game skid of the season. And the spotlight, increasingly, is on the bullpen.
Tuesday’s loss came after Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera allowed runs Monday in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox in 11 innings after James Shields pitched a two-hit shutout through eight innings.
A day earlier, the Royals needed to rally in the ninth inning, before winning in the 10th, after Collins and Aaron Crow blew a two-run lead in the seventh by allowing four runs.
“Big hit by Gordy,” Yost said. “It got us back in the game after the rain delay (earlier in the seventh inning). We thought we had the pitching to match up, but the leadoff walk killed us.”
The Orioles jumped Santana for three runs in the first inning, but the Royals got one back on Alcides Escobar’s two-out RBI single in the third before pulling even on Gordon’s two-run homer in the seventh.
Gordon’s homer, a two-out drive to right, came shortly after play resumed following a 48-minute rain delay -- and after reliever Brian Matusz replaced Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen.
“He was coming after me with a fastball pretty hard,” Gordon said. “I just got started a little earlier.”
Santana worked five scoreless innings after a three-run first inning and, thanks to Gordon’s homer, escaped with a no-decision.
The Orioles held a 3-1 lead in the seventh when the rain intensified with one out and a runner at first. That finished Chen, who allowed two runs and nine hits in 6 ⅓ innings.
The Orioles’ three-run first started with one-out ground singles by Manny Machado and Nick Markakis, which put runners at first and third.
Jones hit a foul pop that eluded Hosmer deep down the right-field line before punching a broken-bat single into left for a 1-0 lead.
That ended Santana’s scoreless streak at 13 innings, which doesn’t count those four scoreless innings last Thursday against Tampa Bay that got wiped away by rain, sleet and snow at Kauffman Stadium.
Santana struck out Davis on a nasty slider in the dirt but failed to get a call on a possible third strike to Wieters, who then rammed a full-count slider into the right-center gap for a two-run double.
The Royals got one-out singles in the third from Miguel Tejada and Elliot Johnson, which produced a run when Escobar poked a two-out RBI single into right.
Next came an exchange of sparkling defensive plays as an interlude: Tejada made a spinning stop on Jones’ sharp two-out grounder in the third and, while still whirling, threw to first for the out.
Even Jones acknowledged his former teammate with an arm salute.
The Royals had a runner at second with two outs in the fourth when Salvy Perez sent a grounder to deep short. J.J. Hardy made a diving stop, which prevented the run, and then threw out Perez from his knees.
Two marvelous plays.