Danny Duffy had already retreated to the dugout by the time this game was decided. A revelation in relief in recent weeks, Duffy succumbed to a stunning series of fielding mistakes as the Royals dropped a 3-2 decision in 10 innings to the Orioles.
The winning blow was struck by Baltimore outfielder Nick Markakis, with Louis Coleman, Duffy’s replacement, on the mound. But the bases were loaded with no outs when Coleman arrived. Duffy had created the worst jam imaginable.
“It’s just pitchers’ fielding practice, man,” Duffy said. “It’s a simple game. And I just wasn’t sharp. I didn’t do my job tonight.”
His downfall began with a 98-mph fastball that collided with the arm of Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The next batter, David Lough, laid down a bunt.
Duffy opted for aggression, rather than security, a decision manager Ned Yost agreed with. With a good throw, Yost believed, they would have picked up an out at second base.
Instead, Duffy “let it sail,” he said. His throw drew shortstop Alcides Escobar off the bag. Schoop spiked Escobar’s left knee as he slid.
After an extended delay in which trainer Nick Kenney tested Escobar’s left knee, Duffy attempted to field another bunt that was laid down by Jemile Weeks. From behind the plate, backup catcher Brett Hayes screamed for Duffy to throw to first. Duffy turned toward third, anyway.
“There’s only so much yelling I can do,” Hayes said. “If he can’t hear me, he can’t hear me.”
Duffy sized up the situation and decided to wheel back to first. His throw floated too high. From there, it was academic.
Markakis looped a hit down the left-field line and sent the crowd at Camden Yards home happy.
The implosion by Duffy — “brain farts,” Hayes called the gaffes — obscured yet another dismal offensive performance.
The setting was ideal for the Royals to grab their second victory in a row. Jeremy Guthrie bounced back from a hiccup last week and spun seven innings of two-run baseball. The defense “made a number of great plays,” Guthrie said.
Yet the Royals could not take advantage. Eric Hosmer roped an RBI double in the third and Justin Maxwell punched a game-tying single in the sixth. Otherwise, the batters went quietly. The Royals have yet to win a game in which they score fewer than four runs.
As a unit, the offense personifies inconsistency. They entered Saturday’s game ranked 23rd in on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 28th in runs scored, and, of course, last in home runs.
They may be the American League’s least threatening lineup. Heading into Saturday, the Royals ranked 29th in the majors in isolated power, which measures how often a team produces extra-base hits. Only the Mets were less potent.
Thus, the game drifted into extra innings. Duffy entered to start the 10th inning. He had thrown at least two innings in each of his four relief appearances this season. On Saturday, his night lasted eight pitches.
With the flames lit, and the game on the precipice, Yost looked for relief.
In the first game of the season, he called upon closer Greg Holland to extinguish a ninth-inning jam. He violated the game’s orthodoxy by utilizing his closer in a tie game on the road. Yost stressed he would likely “never” do that again.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever used my closer (in that situation),” Yost said. “Because I really wanted to win that game on opening day. But don’t look for me to do it. I’m not going to do it. Because I’ve got confidence in everybody down there.”
Holland had been warming up since the ninth. Instead, Coleman entered the fray.
Yost liked how Coleman, a right-hander who can induce ground-balls, matched up with right-handed hitters Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones. In between the duo was Markakis, who scotched the Royals’ plans.
Afterward, Duffy shouldered the blame. He sat motionless at his locker, eyes staring forward, as he recounted his mishaps.
“I just feel terrible right now,” Duffy said. “Because the team played their butts off today. I came in for a blink of an eye of it, and I wasn’t sharp. And it ended up costing us the game.”