BALTIMORE — Zach Britton and the Baltimore Orioles’ suddenly shaky bullpen sure picked a terrible time to lose consecutive home games for the first time since June.
Again erasing deficits but unable to take a lead, the Orioles were beaten by the wild-card Kansas City Royals 6-4 on Saturday when closer Britton gave up the tiebreaking hit in the ninth inning, leaving Baltimore behind 2-0 in the AL Championship Series.
The series shifts to Kansas City for Game 3 on Monday, and now the Orioles must try to do something no team ever has: win a best-of-seven LCS after dropping the first two games at home.
Baseball expanded this round from best-of-five in 1985, and Baltimore is the 12th club to fall behind 2-0 after opening at home, according to STATS. None of the other 11 even managed to get to a Game 7; six were swept.
The Orioles had not lost twice in a row at Camden Yards since June 28-29, when they dropped a pair to Tampa Bay. Since then, they had been 33-10 in Baltimore until an 8-6 defeat in Game 1, when Orioles relievers Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz allowed homers in the 10th inning.
This time, after falling behind 3-1 and 4-3, the Orioles were even at 4 entering the ninth. But O’Day gave up an infield single to Omar Infante. On came the left-handed Britton to face Mike Moustakas, who homered in the fourth.
Royals manager Ned Yost had Moustakas — he of the four homers in six playoff games — drop down a sacrifice bunt to move pinch-runner Terrance Gore into scoring position.
It worked. The first pitch Britton threw to Alcides Escobar was sliced down the right-field line for a go-ahead RBI double. After a fielding error by third baseman Ryan Flaherty, Lorenzo Cain singled through the left side to make it 6-4.
A few hours before Game 2 began, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked whether there is any different sort of tension once a team is trailing in a series.
“Yeah, can’t you tell? God forbid, we might get down two,” Showalter responded, sarcastic as can be. “The world doesn’t end. … You don’t, ‘Woe is me, the sky is falling.’ … You turn the page emotionally and mentally.”
That’s what he might have hoped would happen, especially after his club dropped an opener in which it fell behind 4-0 and 5-1, then forced extra innings before losing shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday.
Game 2 followed a similar pattern.
Just like in Game 1, Baltimore’s starter lasted only 4 1-3 innings. And just like in Game 1, Baltimore’s offense kept it in the game.
Bud Norris allowed two runs within his first 14 pitches Saturday, and the Orioles eventually trailed 3-1. But they tied it on Adam Jones’ two-run homer in the third. And they tied it again Nelson Cruz’s grounder in the fifth made it 4-all.
All that did was set up the Orioles — and their loud, towel-twirling fans — for another late-inning loss.
On Monday, the Orioles will go up against a familiar face: Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie pitched for Baltimore from 2007-11. “History will be put, not even on a back burner, but on some kind of … Lazy Susan or something,” the 35-year-old righty said. He’s faced the Orioles in four games since leaving the club; no one on Baltimore’s 2014 ALCS roster has ever homered off him. Showalter did not announce before Game 2 who he would send to the mound for Game 3.
Cruz went 2 for 4, extending his streak to a record six multihit postseason games in a row. Cruz’s run dates to the 2012 AL wild-card game, when he was with the Texas Rangers. On Friday, he became the 10th player with five consecutive postseason games with at least two hits.
The only change to either team’s starting lineup was by the Orioles, who replaced C Nick Hundley with C Caleb Joseph in the No. 8 spot. That switch was certainly with defense in mind, because Joseph entered in an 0-for-33 slump. But his sac fly drove in Baltimore’s first run after Yordano Ventura walked the bases loaded in the second, and Joseph singled twice, his first hits since Sept. 10. Joseph also threw out the speedy Dyson when he tried to steal second.
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