The team that lost the World Series last year and has feuded with seemingly half of baseball this year rode into Baltimore on Friday night with a comfortable division lead and such sufficient swagger that there were non-players parading around their clubhouse wearing gaudy rings that signified that they were, ultimately, failures last season.
This Royals team held a modest but nonetheless comfortable lead against a struggling Orioles team for much of the game, all of which escalated in a hurry in a completely bonkers bottom of the eighth inning that saw the Orioles hit three home runs, two of which were grand slams. It also saw a classless Royals pitcher throw a pitch into Chris Davis' back, which pitch caused Davis to break his bat onto the ground from his anger. Manager Buck Showalter was ejected from arguing after Franklin Morales was not immediately ejected from the game.
When the dust finally settled, the Orioles were 14-8 winners in a crazy Friday contest that, while eleven months late to do anything about the fantastic fluke that was last year's ALCS sweep at the hands of these Royals, is nonetheless the exact kind of emotional win on which the Orioles, and their fans, might hang their hats as the season winds to a disappointing close. Yeah, this year's been a bummer, but man, remember when a sold out Camden Yards crowd got to watch the O's kick the stuffing out of THESE jokers? That was great. And it was great.
An inauspicious beginning
To tell you the truth, this game kind of sucked to start out, hard as it is to remember now, nearly four hours after it began. Orioles starting pitcher Mike Wright did not have a very good game, starting from the very first inning when he gave up a two-out home run to Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain. This early deficit was expanded as the Royals grabbed two more runs against Wright in the second inning.
While the Royals were doing this against Wright, the Orioles were turning on some more of their all-too-customary futility with runners in scoring position. Over the first seven innings of the game they managed to score four runs, but were only 1-10 with runners in scoring position.
They first got on the board with a solo home run, the first of Dariel Alvarez's major league career, and also scored runs on two different RBI fielder's choice plays hit by Caleb Joseph, as well as one run where Manny Machado blew through a rare Bobby Dickerson stop sign to score from first base on a single. That was a baller move.
But the Orioles trailed as this fourth run crossed the plate, because Wright gave up four runs in only five innings of work - including two home runs hit by Cain - and Brad Brach, who followed him, also ended up giving up a pair of runs in two innings of work, though only one run was earned. A Machado error, his 17th of the year, cost them the sixth run.
The first of the grand slams
There aren't many good things to feel about trailing two runs heading into the bottom of the eighth inning when the Royals bullpen is going to be involved in the proceedings. When Kelvin Herrera was summoned in the bottom of the seventh inning to get the last out, things were lined up so he'd face the bottom of the O's order in the eighth. We've seen this story before.
On Friday night they were playing off of a different script. Jonathan Schoop led off with a double, which brought the tying run to the plate... but the next three batters due up were Joseph, Hardy, and Gerardo Parra. Nothing you'd feel great about. Steve Clevenger pinch hit for Joseph and after a tough at-bat in which he fouled off a lot of pitches, he reached base on a grounder that Royals third baseman gloved but couldn't control.
Here, with the struggling Hardy at the plate, Showalter opted to have Hardy try to bunt, although they needed two runs in the eighth inning. Not the worst decision, Hardy hitting how he is, though Hardy failed in two tries to get the bunt down and ultimately struck out looking. Oh, great, you figured. How would they blow this again? Even when Parra loaded the bases with an infield single, the Orioles had another hit with RISP with nothing to show for it.
So the bases were loaded with only one out and now it was Nolan Reimold. You probably expected a GIDP. I expected a GIDP. Reimold, who was already designated for assignment this season and is somehow back, has not had a good year, and he was facing an elite reliever, and in the end none of that other stuff mattered because Reimold crushed a home run a mile high, bouncing off the top of the foul pole, and just like that the Orioles were ahead 8-6.
The ejection of William Nathaniel Showalter
Herrera was blasted from the game after that grand slam. Royals manager next summoned Franklin Morales, who was welcomed to the game by Machado hitting his 28th home run of the season. A feisty and festive sellout crowd, nearly all of whom remained towards the end, unlike the population that attends Walgreens games, erupted in pure, unrestrained joy. Things were not done being interesting.
Adam Jones reached base with a single and then Morales threw a fastball into Davis' back. Davis was not happy with this in any way, slamming his bat to the ground before stalking to first base. Boos rained down on Morales and at this point both benches were warned. An exceptionally irate Showalter emerged from the dugout, angry over everything about the situation, which is about as blatant of a hit by pitch out of frustration as you are going to see.
Showalter was run from the game, and the crowd loved that Showalter fought for his team. He received a standing ovation as he headed to the showers. And by the way, in the game, the Orioles had already scored five runs, had two men on base, and only one out.
The second of the grand slams
Everyone except for blind Royals homers agrees that the Royals lucked their way into their ALCS sweep. That is disputed but should not be. The BABIP Dragon flew in their favor, roasting the Orioles for an entire week of October, and that was that. So it doesn't make up for that luck when you get a play like Steve Pearce hitting a double up the middle, off of the pitcher's mound, to score another run... but it felt good all the same.
Morales was yanked, having faced four batters and retired none. During the pitching change, the Camden Yards music people took the chance to play that Twisted Sister classic, "We're Not Gonna Take It", as well as, appropriately, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with "I Won't Back Down."
In strode Joba Chamberlain. Did you even know Chamberlain was on the Royals? I did not. His entrance was hilarious, because of course that's who'd be pitching now. And Chamberlain proceeded to issue a walk to Schoop - the tenth batter of the inning - and then give up a grand slam, the SECOND OF THE INNING, to Clevenger. There was nothing left to do but laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
And then, after laughing, laugh some more.
It is at this point little more than a moral victory; snarling at the white whale, "From Hell's heart, I stab at thee." Take what you can get. The Orioles now need to go 13-9 over the last 22 games to avoid a losing season.
They will be back in action on Saturday afternoon at 1:05. Sleep fast, as Showalter likes to say. Yordano Ventura and Chris Tillman are the scheduled starting pitchers.