Royals right-hander Brad Keller and Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy put together two outstanding pitching performances which set the stage for the late-inning white-knuckling on both sides.
Orioles second baseman Hanser Alberto took a lot of the suspense out of the night with one swing in the bottom of the eighth. Alberto smashed a 1-1 pitch from Royals reliever Jacob Barnes for a three-run home run with two outs in a tie game.
The Royals got a man on in the ninth, but the rally eluded them as they dropped the second game of their three-game series, 4-1, in front of an announced 11,826 in Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday night.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who moved to the cleanup spot in the batting order while Jorge Soler batted in the No. 2 hole, had two hits and a run scored. Meibrys Viloria’s sacrifice fly drove in the Royals’ lone run.
The loss snapped a streak of three consecutive road wins for the Royals (45-81).
Keller pitched six scoreless innings. He allowed three hits and two walks, and he also struck out four. Keller left with a 1-0 lead.
“It’s always fun when you get into a duel like that,” Keller said. “It keeps you sharp. You don’t know if one run is going to be the entire ballgame. You just try to go out there and put up as man zeros (as you can) and match whatever he does.”
Keller only threw 79 pitches through six innings — roughly 20 fewer than his per start average entering the night — and Royals manager Ned Yost gave a staunch defense of his decision to go to the bullpen for the final three innings.
“Here’s my issue with Keller,” Yost said. “He’s one of our main guys moving forward. He’s already 20-something innings past what he threw last year, and we’re not into September yet.
“So I’m not going to push him for the rest of this year. I mean, he’s going to get his innings in, but for me to extend him out and push him — I’m not going to do it. I just can’t. Other guys are going to have to pick up the slack.”
Still in just his first full season as a starting pitcher, Keller has now thrown 164 innings in 27 starts. Last season he pitched just 140 1/3 innings in 20 starts (41 total appearances).
Keller said the coaching staff hasn’t talked to him about limiting his innings, and he’s going to approach things the same as he has and pitch as many innings as possible.
Keller threw six no-hit innings in his previous start before giving up three runs in the seventh at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s given up three runs or fewer in three of his past four starts.
Meanwhile, Keller’s counterpart Bundy allowed just one run on five hits and two walks in seven innings on the hill for the Orioles (40-86). Bundy struck out seven, including six in the first four innings.
The Royals’ run came in the second inning after back-to-back singles by Gordon and Ryan O’Hearn put runners on the corners. Viloria’s deep drive to center field on the eighth pitch from Bundy was caught, but allowed Gordon to score from third base.
Keller gave up a walk and a single to start the sixth inning, but he retired the next three batters in order to escape with the 1-0 lead intact with some help from his defense.
Right fielder Bubba Starling made a diving catch on a soft liner off the bat of Anthony Santander in right-center field for the second out of the sixth. If Starling doesn’t come up with that grab, Keller would’ve at best had bases loaded and one out if the lead runner didn’t score.
Royals left-hander Richard Lovelady gave up a single up the middle to start the seventh followed by a one-out infield single when first baseman O’Hearn made an unsuccessful dive for a grounder, but second baseman Whit Merrifield ranged over and gloved it on the infield dirt. However, Lovelady didn’t break to cover the bag in time for Merrifield to make a throw.
Rio Ruiz followed with an RBI single through the left side of a shifted infield to tie the score 1-1.
In the eighth, Barnes gave up a leadoff walk, recorded back-to-back pop-outs, and then walked another batter before Alberto came to the plate.
“I saw that big gap in left center field and wanted to pull the ball over the shortstop,” Alberto said. “Obviously, I had a little more power and got the home run. We competed really good tonight, and Bundy had a really good performance.”
The Royals will start left-hander Mike Montgomery (3-5, 4.63) in the series finale Wednesday, while the Orioles list right-hander Aaron Brooks (2-7, 6.49) as their scheduled starter.