As Salvador Perez strode to the plate in the sixth inning Wednesday, at least three things were true. The Royals’ offense was in an instafunk, mired in a three-day slump that took root here on Monday. The club had put two runners in scoring position with nobody out after Eric Hosmer ripped a double to right. And Perez had dug in the box twice against Orioles starter Jeremy Hellickson and swung at the first pitch both times.
Even in the moment, the feeling was clear: This was a pivotal sequence. The deficit was three runs. The Royals’ offense was finally stirring. Perez was one swing away from tying a baseball game at Camden Yards.
In the 6-0 loss to the Orioles, Perez would take one swing, a hack that defied logic and radiated impatience. Hellickson spun a 77 mph curveball toward the plate. Perez hit a weak pop-up back to the mound.
“Sal got a little anxious there,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
In three pitches, Perez produced three outs and hit just one baseball past the pitcher. In moments, the Royals would squander a scoring opportunity in rather frustrating fashion, the anger spilling over to the rest of the night.
Mike Moustakas followed by striking out swinging on a foul tip that appeared to hit the dirt. Jorge Bonifacio ended the sixth inning with a soft grounder to first base. When Moustakas struck out looking in the top of the ninth, he barked at umpire John Tumpane and earned an ejection. Moments later, Yost had been thrown out, too.
“We got a team that doesn’t quit,” Yost said, sitting inside his office after the game. “We battle. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. And that pitch was nowhere close to being a strike.”
In the moments after the loss, Moustakas remained convinced that the foul tip had hit the dirt in the sixth. He believed the call had been missed.
“A runner on second and third, and a close ballgame,” Moustakas said. “And I foul a ball off and it hits the ground … we need to see that. Somebody on the field needs to see that. No one saw it.”
By the end, a nine-game road trip that began with five wins in six games ended with three straight losses in Baltimore. An offense that powered sterling months in June and July ran out of gas, producing just three total runs in three games.
The Royals (55-51) were swept for the first time since losing three straight at Dodger Stadium during July 7-9. They have lost seven straight at Camden Yards and scored just five runs in six games here in the last two seasons.
“They did a nice job of neutralizing the middle of our order,” Yost said. “And that’s what makes us tick.”
The numbers tell only part of the story: On Monday, the Orioles’ starting rotation entered the series with a 5.83 ERA, the worst in the American League. The Royals had no answer for the trifecta of Ubaldo Jimenez, Dylan Bundy and Hellickson, a right-hander making his first start since being acquired from Philadelphia in a predeadline trade.
In the moment, the strategy behind the deal verged on perplexing. The Orioles (53-54) were under .500 and stuck in no man’s land as the deadline approached. They appeared more likely to sell rather than buy. Yet, in three days, they picked up three games on the Royals, who remained in the second American League wild card spot, a half game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays.
On Thursday, Kansas City will open a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. Despite the sweep, the club will begin the day 2 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland after a rainout postponed a game in Boston on Wednesday night.
“We’ll be OK,” Moustakas said. “We believe in each other.”
As the Royals’ offense languished, starter Jason Vargas was nicked for three runs in five innings, the damage coming on a three-hit sequence in the second.
Designated hitter Trey Mancini singled. Shortstop Tim Beckham lined a double to right field. And Caleb Joseph clubbed a two-run homer into the seats in left. Nearly 10 minutes later, a rainstorm hit downtown Baltimore, forcing a 35-minute delay during the top of the third.
“I made that mistake to Joseph and threw a fastball right over the middle,” Vargas said. “We were trying to go in there pretty tight on the body line.”
Vargas would return to the mound, offering 96 pitches in five innings as his left arm weathered the break. The performance saved the bullpen and kept the Royals within striking distance until the eighth. At that point, Baltimore put the game away with three runs against reliever Brandon Maurer.
Hours earlier, the clubhouse appeared quiet and still as the Royals prepared to close out a three-city road trip. Eric Hosmer sat at a computer and watched video of Hellickson before heading to an indoor cage. Danny Duffy lounged on a leather couch and looked at his phone. A few feet away, Whit Merrifield was lying on another couch.
The Royals had started the trip by sweeping the Tigers and taking two of three from the Red Sox in Boston. By Wednesday, however, they were starting to suffer from a bit of road fatigue.
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain received a day off to rest a gimpy hamstring. Moustakas spent an evening at designated hitter as his right leg remained sore after being plunked in Detroit last week.
The offense was not at full strength. The result was a lost series. By the final moments of the ninth inning, Moustakas and Yost were tossed by Tumpane, an umpire who drew the ire of the Royals back on June 25 at Kauffman Stadium.
On that day, Tumpane suffered through an inconsistent day behind the plate before tossing reliever Peter Moylan. On Wednesday, Moustakas said he held no grudge or ill will … until the calls in the sixth and ninth innings.
“That last call was just horrible,” Moustakas said, before pausing for a moment to collect his thoughts.