Orioles at Toronto Monday at 7:07 p.m. on MASN and WBAL 1090 AM
Amid all the good feelings about the Orioles’ fast start, their current perch atop the American League East and Sunday’s announcement of center fielder Adam Jones’ contract extension, the reality remains that the Major League Baseball season is exceptionally long and grueling.
Despite being tied for the AL East lead on Memorial Day, the Orioles are officially dealing with their first elongated speed bump of the 2012 season.
After dropping Sunday’s rubber match, 4-2, to the Kansas City Royals, the Orioles (29-19) have now lost five of seven games as they embark on a tough, three-city road trip. They also lost their stranglehold on sole possession of first place in the AL East when the Tampa Bay Rays, also 29-19, beat the Boston Red Sox on Sunday
Losing two of three to the Royals (19-27), who have the second-worst record in the American League, punctuated a rough homestand in which the Orioles lost four of six.
“We had our chances. We couldn't do it,” said second baseman Robert Andino. “It’s a grind, a long season, up and down.”
Playing before a boisterous, announced crowd of 33,919 — which gave Jones a rousing ovation in the first inning, his first official at-bat since officially signing a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension — the Orioles simply didn’t do enough at the plate or on the mound.
Lefty Brian Matusz (4-5), who had won three consecutive decisions, pitched adequately, but was hounded by some key Royals hits. He gave up solo homers to Billy Butler in the first and Jeff Francoeur to lead off the sixth, which broke a 2-2 tie.
The Royals scored twice in that inning — the other run coming on a RBI double by ninth-hitter Humberto Quintero.
“I made some bad pitches today to their big hitters. That was my goal starting the game, not to let their big guys hurt me, and I did,” said Matusz, who gave up four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks. “And I made some good pitches when I needed to, but I fell shy today.”
Matusz, who was coming off a two-hit gem against the Red Sox on Tuesday, struck out five Sunday, but needed 104 pitches to get through six innings. There’s no shame, however, in being victimized by Butler and Francoeur — at least not right now.
Butler’s homer was his 10th this season and second in two games. He has reached base safely in 19 of his past 21 contests. Francoeur is hitting .380 in his past 14 games and was 7-for-12 with two homers in the three-game series versus the Orioles.
Francoeur “is swinging the bat really well right now,” Matusz said. “I had him at a 1-2 count, wanted to bury a slider there. Flew open and left it right over the middle of the plate. Obviously, I’d like to have that pitch back. But in situations with big hitters, I need to make better pitches.”
Matusz at least kept the Orioles in the game, but their offense could not take advantage of opportunities.
They had runners in scoring position in each of their first five innings and had multiple runners on base in four of the five innings pitched by Royals starter Luke Hochevar. And yet the Orioles netted only two runs — an RBI double by Nick Markakis in the first and an RBI single by Xavier Avery in the fourth.
The Orioles left 10 runners on base and were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“I thought they pitched real well for the most part. Hochevar's been throwing better as of late and we knew he was going to be better, and their bullpen, a lot of big, young arms there,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “They've got their confidence. And we didn't do much after the fifth there. That was the story.”
Kansas City’s bullpen took over from Hochevar and excelled, giving up just one hit and no runs in 4 1/3 innings. Lefty Tim Collins (2-0) picked up the win by retiring all four batters he faced and Jonathan Broxton notched his 10th save.
The Orioles still had a legitimate chance with two outs in the ninth when J.J. Hardy popped up to shallow right. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella and Francoeur collided, and Hardy reached second on what eventually was called an error on Giavotella.
Broxton then struck out Markakis looking while Jones, who already had extended his season-best hitting streak to 18 games earlier in the day, was waiting on deck.
The Orioles now embark on a nine-game, 11-day road trip to Toronto, Tampa Bay and Boston after losing consecutive series for the first time this season.
“We've got a tough row. The whole season is,” Showalter said. “We're going to Toronto and I'm sure they're not real happy and they'll be recharged going home. On to Tampa and on to Boston. That's why this is hard to do.
Showalter said the Orioles take no solace in their surprising spot in the AL East. The bottom line, he said, is that they had a rough homestand, and now have to rebound on the road, where they have a 15-6 record.
“It's frustrating for our guys,” Showalter said. “And we'll put it behind us and move on to another country.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times