It was like a collective gut punch to the stomachs of Oriole fans everywhere. The Orioles season came to screeching halt tonight at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City by a score of 2-1. Baltimore has been eliminated from the playoffs in a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Royals. As they say, there is always next year.
It really couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for the O's. The top of the first inning featured a nice play by Royals second baseman Omar Infante on a Nick Markakis grounder up the middle and a good-looking running grab by Alex Gordon in left field.
In the bottom of the inning, Alcides Escobar singled and Nori Aoki acted as if he had been shot when he was hit in the side of the right knee by a 91-mph Miguel Gonzalez fastball. It put two men on with no one out and KC's hottest hitter, Lorenzo Cain coming to the plate. The bunt-loving Ned Yost had Cain square around to advance Escobar and Aoki up one base each. Eric Hosmer followed with a chopper to Steve Pearce at first base. Pearce came home with the throw, where Caleb Joseph never seemed to really have control of the ball. It squeaked out of his glove with Escobar headed home. Escobar's slide knocked the ball to the back stop and allowed Aoki to round third and score uncontested, giving the Royals an early 2-0 lead. That was all the Kansas City pitching staff would need.
The only Oriole offense was a Ryan Flaherty home run. Flash went ya-ya to right field to lead-off the third inning and cut the Royal lead in half. He has really been one of the lone bright spots in the O's lineup this series. Apart from that, the Baltimore bats did almost nothing against Jason Vargas in the first five innings of the game.
Delmon Young grounded into two double plays; one in the second inning and another in the fourth. Poor J.J. Hardy was robbed once again. This time it was by Alex Gordon when Hardy sent a long fly ball to deep left field in the fifth inning. Gordon caught the ball, that may have been a home run had the game been at Camden Yards, on the run and slammed into the wall just a moment after the ball landed in his mitt.
The only other real offensive chance the O's had was in the sixth inning. Vargas began the inning but was replaced by Kelvin Herrera following a walk to Jonathan Schoop and a strike out of Nick Markakis. A batter later, Adam Jones knocked a bloop into right field to give the Orioles runners on the corners with two outs and the guy you want at the plate, Nelson Cruz. But Cruz couldn't get it done, lining out to Infante to end the inning.
Miguel Gonzalez was done for the O's after 85 pitches and 5.2 innings thrown. He gave up just the two runs, one of them earned, on four hits, four walks and four strikeouts. He pitched admirably and, had it not been such a key game, he may have gone seven innings.
After that, Darren O'Day, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton combined to shut out KC for the final 2.1 innings of the game. Unfortunately, the Orioles offense was spent.
There was a sliver of hope in the top of the ninth inning when Jones led off the with a walk. That doesn't happen every day so it seemed like an omen. But it was not to be. Cruz grounded into a fielder's choice to the pitcher, Young struck out and Hardy grounded to Mike Moustakas, who fired to Hosmer at first base to end the Orioles season.
It hurts to say, but the Royals were the better team in this series. Their starting pitching was better than the Orioles. Their bullpen was much better than the Orioles. They got hits when it mattered. And their fielders made clutch plays. Call it talent or call it luck. The fact is that Kansas City deserved to win this series.
It was a great season, O's. They did things that many of the experts didn't think was possible before the season. They had solid starting pitching, great bullpen pitching, thunderous power from the lineup and fantastic defense. It all was on display against the Tigers in the ALDS and, in a snap, it was gone when the Royals came to town.
This team did it despite their biggest off-season acquisition being a flop, losing their All-Star catcher to Tommy John surgery early on, losing their stud third baseman to his third major knee injury and one of their big boppers being popped for using Adderall.
They gave me one of the thrills of my life when I saw Young lace that double down the left field line to give the Orioles the lead in game two of the ALDS. Not to mention, watching their celebration of the AL East crown was one of the most amazing events in my sports-watching life, and I wasn't even there. This loss hurts a lot more than many have in the past.
It's a sad day in Birdland, but time heals all wounds. I'm going to miss this team. Will we see the likes of Delmon Young, Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis or Andrew Miller in orange and black again? I'm not sure. But don't hang your heads. This is a team that Baltimore can, and should, be proud off. See you for Spring Training in four months.