Jordan Lyles was always going to give up runs. He led all major league pitchers in earned runs in the shortened 2020 season and led all AL pitchers in the same category in 2021. On Thursday night, Lyles tacked a third consecutive poor start onto his season ledger, leading to a deficit to the Royals that was just too much for the offense to overcome despite its best efforts. When all was said and done, the Orioles were 7-5 losers in the series opener.
What Lyles really needed to deliver, and could not, was a shutdown inning. An early Orioles lead evaporated the next half-inning. After the offense rallied to tie following the hole that Lyles had dug for them, he gave up another pair of runs in the fifth inning before even getting an out in the inning. Some nights, scoring five runs will get you in the win column. Just not when your starting pitcher gives up six.
There’s something especially demoralizing - to a fan, at least - about a team scoring runs in one half-inning and then their pitcher immediately coughs up the lead in the next half-inning. It doesn’t really matter, of course. Runs allowed count the same no matter what inning they happen. There’s no bonus or penalty beyond the inherent benefit or drawback of giving up whatever number of runs.
The Orioles struck first in this one, starting with a leadoff single by #9 hitter Jorge Mateo. The speedy Mateo stole second base for his 14th steal of the season, and a throwing error by Royals catcher Salvador Perez moved Mateo up to third, still with no one out. Cedric Mullins struck out for out number one.
The next chance went to Trey Mancini. The Orioles leader in hits this season hit a chopper into the drawn-in Royals infield. Kansas City shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. was unable to make a good throw home even with time to get out Mateo, leading to the first O’s run scoring. The ball skipped away from Perez, then ricocheted off the backstop and conveniently back to Perez.
Unfortunately for the O’s, Mancini had rounded first, thinking he might get an extra base out of this. Perez threw to Carlos Santana at first base, who tagged out Mancini (pictured above) before Mancini could scramble back. Add another one to the “Weird deleterious things happening to Mancini in the vicinity of first” compilation for this season.
Then, Lyles did Lyles things. This has not been a positive for teams he’s pitched for in either of the last two seasons and 2022’s not starting to look too good either. Perez cashed in two men in scoring position with a very long single, then Royals DH MJ Melendez blasted a two-run home run to give KC a 4-1 lead.
Some games this season, you could feel like that was it, the game was over even though it was only the third inning. This was one of the ones where the Orioles mustered another rally. In the fifth inning, they finally got around to noticing that the Royals starter, Kris Bubic, has stunk so far this season and they strung together a swift rally before Bubic could be lifted.
As the Orioles lineup turned over for the third time through, the top of the order delivered four straight hits. Austin Hays ended up with an RBI single that scored Mullins. This chased Bubic. For reasons unknown, the Royals summoned reliever Collin Snider and his 7.84 ERA into the sticky situation. Ryan Mountcastle welcomed Snider to the game with a bases-clearing double, tying the score at 4-4. The runs were charged to Bubic. The O’s went on to load the bases with two outs after two walks. Catcher Robinson Chirinos could not cash in the two-out bases loaded chance.
Lyles again. He walked Melendez, the very first batter he saw, after this pesky Orioles rally. Then a 1-2 fastball hung out right in the heart of the plate and Santana did not miss it, crushing a home run to right field that put the O’s back down, 6-4. Santana had homered just twice in 160 plate appearances this season. You have to really screw up to let the 36-year-old beat you. Lyles! He completed the fifth, but that was all.
The damage was done. After six earned runs allowed, Lyles up to a 4.97 ERA for the season. A seventh Royals run scored the next inning, unearned against reliever Logan Gillaspie as the run crossed the plate in part due to a Chirinos passed ball. This did not prove consequential to the game’s outcome, though it did give the Royals some more breathing room. Credit also to Nick Vespi, who added 1.1 scoreless innings to preserve his MLB ERA (in 5.2 innings) of 0.00. Add in Vespi’s 16 Triple-A outings and his 2022 ERA remains 0.00. Not bad.
They needed the breathing room, it turned out. Though the O’s went down in order in the sixth and seventh innings, they got another rally going in the eighth. Tyler Nevin, now the son of an MLB interim manager, opened with a single to center field. The next batter, Rougned Odor, ripped an opposite field grounder that, for a brief moment, made me think, “That’ll beat the shift!”
No. The camera changed and the grounder had gone right to Royals third baseman Emmanuel Rivera. The would-be double play was slow to develop; Odor ended up reaching first after a wide throw. Chirinos drew a walk to bring the tying run to the plate. They at least made it interesting.
Here, the Orioles pinch hit MLB’s #1 prospect, Adley Rutschman, for Mateo. This was his first pinch hit appearance of his career. Rutschman, you may have noticed, also searches for his first MLB RBI. He searches still. Rutschman made some decent contact, driving a fly ball to the warning track in left field - the opposite field - but unfortunately there was only a runner on second base, not third. Odor ended up scoring the fifth O’s run, driven in by a Mullins double.
Though Mancini walked to load the bases, Hays could not deliver a big game-breaker. He grounded out to end the eighth. The ninth inning saw Nevin try to start another rally, but this came only after there were two outs. Nevin singled up the middle then got no farther. Odor popped out to end the game.
The MASN broadcast noted that the Orioles were 126-126 all-time in Kansas City heading into tonight’s game. They’re back below .500 now. Maybe they can even it up again on Friday. Bruce Zimmermann, who also needs to stop stinking, takes the mound for the O’s, with walk-prone Royals rookie Jonathan Heasley pitching for the home team. This one is scheduled to get under way at 8:10.