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Defense and possibly fate conspire against Orioles in 6-4 loss in ALCS Game 2; Royals up 2-0 in series

The Orioles lost another, different kind of heartbreaker to the Royals on Saturday night, now trailing 2-0 in the ALCS after a 6-4 defeat.

Patrick Smith

There is a rational explanation for all things in nature. Angles and velocity, forces and acceleration, wind speed, friction; these things go a long way to explaining the physics behind any given baseball play. For every pitch, every outcome, there is a reason why that happened and not any of the other infinite permutations of what might happen when a pitcher throws a ball towards home plate and a batter makes contact.

When these things all come together in favor of one particular baseball team and not another, you start to wonder if there's not some greater force at play: Call it luck, call it fate, call it destiny, call it what you will. We know that none of these things exist, but sometimes it feels like they do anyway. The Royals all have horseshoes up their butts, figuratively speaking, and now they have a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series against the Orioles.

In the first inning, when the seeing-eye single off the bat of Nori Aoki snuck into left field, what could you do but shrug and say, "Of course"? After Lorenzo Cain roped a double into right, the Royals found themselves with men on second and third with only one out. A good situation to be in, especially when no matter what you do, the ball will fall in for a hit.

The story went a lot like last night: A broken bat dunker, this time off the bat of Eric Hosmer, just out of the reach of a diving J.J. Hardy, dropped in to left field. Cain read the play well, or got really lucky, and scored from second. Two runs were in on this cheap contact. Physics, luck, fate, destiny, or all of the above were on Kansas City's side. They led 2-0 in the game after an inning thanks to whatever it was that benefited them.

What could you do but shrug and say, of course?

Hosmer wasn't all that good this year, continually bats cleanup because Ned Yost doesn't care about strategy, and it keeps working out. This force struck again in the third inning: Cain beat out an infield hit, which he does because he's fast, then Hosmer hit another ball that fell in just in front of left fielder Alejandro De Aza. No big deal, that just brought up Billy Butler, who was also not very good this year - a negative-WAR player, in fact. So of course he drove a double opposite field, scoring another run for the Royals.

Butler also hits in front of Alex Gordon, the Royals' best hitter, by the way, because Yost.

The Butler double made the score 3-1 in favor of the Royals. Starter Yordano Ventura did his best Zach Britton impression in the bottom of the second, walking the bases loaded - a tough thing to do with this Orioles offense. Or maybe it was the product of design, somehow; he loaded the bases for Caleb Joseph, who hasn't gotten a hit in over a calendar month. Joseph got the Orioles on the board with a sacrifice fly to center, bringing up Jonathan Schoop, still with two men on.

Schoop gave the ball a nice ride, a fly ball to deep center that might have been a home run in the summer, would have scored another run on a sacrifice fly if there were less than two outs. Instead, O's fans got their hopes up for just a second before the ball was caught.

The O's did not get where they've gotten by rolling over the first time they fall behind in a game, though. They battled back to tie the game last night and they would keep battling on Saturday as well. De Aza came through with a one out double in the bottom of the third. Adam Jones, thus far a goat of two postseasons, tied up the game with a laser shot into left field. A good way to announce your arrival into the postseason, for sure. He's now tied with Ryan Flaherty in postseason home runs and RBI.

It was not a tie game for long. Continuing their strategy of having every sub-.400 slugging hitter crush all of the postseason home runs, forever, the Royals pulled back ahead when #9 hitter Mike Moustakas - who batted .212/.271/.361 in the regular season - launched a ball onto the flag court in right field, putting Kansas City back on top. What made this at-bat especially frustrating is that Bud Norris threw this pitch to Moustakas with two strikes. No love from the umpire, and then instead the Royals took the 4-3 lead.

Blown call or not, bad luck or not, it was not a good day for Norris, who was bounced from the game after only 4.1 innings. Norris allowed four runs on nine hits. He walked none and struck out three. After using a lot of their better relievers for extended action in Game 1, the Orioles needed a better game from Norris than this. Instead, they had to turn to Brad Brach in the fifth inning. Brach stranded the runner he inherited.

Often this year, Brach entering the game has been the signal for Orioles hitters to start scoring. That's how he ended up with seven regular season wins, with another in the ALDS as well. Base hits by De Aza and Jones maneuvered the O's into men on first and third with one out. Cruz grounded a ball to shortstop, just to a spot that, combined with a hard slide from Jones into second, the Royals could not complete the double play. The tying run crossed the plate on the play. The game was knotted at 4-4 through five.

Brach got the Orioles through the sixth. The O's called on Andrew Miller after a leadoff walk to Aoki in the seventh. Yost sent Jarrod Dyson in to run for Aoki. Dyson tested the arm of Caleb Joseph in the course of the inning. He was thrown out and is now 0-for-2 in steals this series, just like everyone predicted.

The Orioles tried to score in the Royals way in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with one out. Pearce popped out, then J.J. Hardy hit dunker, but Cain - who'd switched to right field in time for the inning - ran the ball down along the line. That's the difference between having Cain in right and having Markakis there. The Orioles aren't going to be winning the Royals' way. They'll have to win their own way, if they're going to win.

A problem for the O's is that the Royals still have every intention of winning their way. Omar Infante led off the ninth inning with a swinging bunt single. There reared that non-existent destiny again. Terrance Gore, who may have been born to be a pinch-runner in the ninth inning of a tie game, came on to run. Moustakas was due up - who'd homered last night - so Buck Showalter called on Zach Britton, showing faith in his closer that he would do better the day after he struggled so mightily.

The Orioles aren't going to win the Royals' way. They'll have to win their own way.

Moustakas laid down a sacrifice bunt, which is probably the single most stupid move you could possibly order a batter with four postseason home runs to make. Yet, remember: Horseshoes up their butts. Every insane Yost decision will pay off. Gore was in scoring position, Escobar dribbled a double down the right field line, and just like that, the Orioles trailed with only three outs to work with.

Again like last night, once the flood gates opened, they stayed open. Flaherty misplayed a little chopper that would have resulted in the second out, giving the Royals runners on first and third with one out. That led the O's to play the infield in to try to cut off the extra run, and Lorenzo Cain took advantage of that to ground a ball past the drawn-in Flaherty. It was a routine grounder but for the infield "having" to play in.

The Orioles have gotten this far with good starting pitching, good relief pitching, a good defense, and home runs. They have not gotten any of these things so far in the ALCS, and that's why they are on the path to having their season end before they can come back to Baltimore again. They need to win two of the next three just to get back to Camden Yards.

De Aza and Jones made quick outs against Greg Holland in the ninth inning. Cruz grounded a ball up the middle to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Pearce. Holland got Pearce to swing at a change-up to strike out to end the game. Pearce and Markakis had matching 0-for-5s on the night.

After a Sunday off day, the series heads to Kansas City for the next three games, or at least it will be three if the O's can actually manage to win a game. Monday's Game 3 is scheduled to start at 8:07 Eastern. Wei-Yin Chen and Jeremy Guthrie are the currently listed starters for the game.