Simply put, this was a devastating loss for the Orioles. Yes, it's only the first game of a seven-game series, but everything about the way Buck Showalter managed the Orioles pitching staff shows how important it was to capture the ALCS opener. He didn't hesitate to pull starter Chris Tillman after an ineffective 4 1/3 innings and turn the keys over to his bullpen, a win-at-all-costs move. It worked beautifully in Game 2 of the ALDS when the wheels fell off for Wei-Yin Chen in the early going.
For an instant, everything seemed like it was following the down-to-the-wire formula that has allowed the club to continually pull out victories. The bats clawed back from an early deficit and tied the score at six runs apiece in the 6th inning. Showalter asked relievers Kevin Gausman and Andrew Miller to seal up the 7th and 8th, and as the script has typically gone in 2014, they delivered.
But everything unraveled in the 9th, when closer Zach Britton was summoned to keep the score knotted up. The lefty sinkerballer couldn't find the strike zone, even when the Royals, with runners on, were offering to give up an out by sacrificing. Britton did manage to get a force out at the plate to keep things tied before giving way to Darren O'Day. Still, it was bases loaded and only one out. Just as soon as things looked desperate, everything got back on course after O'Day got Billy Butler to hit into a double play.
Cue the walk-off Orioles Magic. But the bats couldn't come through.
O'Day came back out for the 10th and, against the first batter of the inning, Alex Gordon, surrendered a home run. And then a walk. He struck out Omar Infante before being replaced by Brian Matusz, who promptly gave up a two-run shot to the first hitter he faced, Mike Moustakas.
In an utterly deflated Camden Yards, the Orioles took their "We Won't Stop" mantra to heart, even mounting an incredibly inspired two-out rally that saw Nick Markakis up, with two men on, as the go-ahead run of the game. But on this rain-soaked night, it was not meant to be.
It seems premature to say Game 2 is a must-win, but it absolutely is. You can't leave home empty-handed. And with the bullpen taxed after this four-and-a-half-hour, extra-innings heart breaker, it falls on Bud Norris to deliver the kind of performance he did to clinch the ALDS in Detroit. As for O'Day and Britton, they have to remain on script if the Orioles have any hope of advancing to the World Series.
The Orioles just didn't have enough magic this time. Markakis grounds out to second to bring this four-and-a-half-hour marathon to a close.
Young singles up the middle! The Orioles score one run, making it 8-6, and the two-out rally continues. David Lough coming in to pinch run for Young, and Nick Markakis stepping up to the dish.
Paredes works the count full and draws a walk. The tying run comes to the plate in the form of ALDS hero Delmon Young, batting for Schoop. Orioles Magic???
Following a pop out by Steve Pearce and strike out by J.J. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty singles to keep hope slightly alive. Buck sends Jimmy Paredes up to pinch hit for Hundley.
Matusz gets a fly out and strikeout to close out the 10th. Greg Holland on to try and make this game final. The fans who are still here are trying to get pumped.
Mike Moustakas launches a two-run bomb toward center. 8-5 Royals here in the 10th. Definitely heard some boo birds after that blast, and even more fans are heading toward the exits. Hard to imagine the Orioles will be able to come back from this one.
Buck decides to bring on Matusz to face Mike Moustakas. The lefty specialist wasn't even party of the ALDS roster, but he nowfinds himself in a critical position here in Game 1 of the ALCS. Have to stop the bleeding.
Ugh, and O'Day issues a free pass to Salvador Perez. Brian Matusz is warming up for the Orioles.
Alex Gordon belts an O'Day offering into the right field bleachers. That's a crushing blow for O'Day, who pitched incredibly to even get us into extras. 6-5 Royals.
Davis blows one by Cruz to end the 9th. Free baseball! And this isn't just any free baseball, this is free playoff baseball.
Well, that was a bit too aggressive. Jones badly swings at a breaking ball in the dirt to strike out. It's up to Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz.
After a De Aza strikeout, Adam Jones steps to the plate. You know he's going to take some aggressive cuts.
Incredible! After a battle of an at-bat, O'Day gets Billy Butler to ground into a double play, Hardy to Schoop to Pearce. The Orioles walked the tightest of ropes there and survived. They head to the bottom of the 9th with a chance to walk it off.
Wow, Britton gets Hosmer to ground to Pearce at first. Pearce didn't bother stepping on the bag and fired to Hundley covering at the plate. Incredible job by Hundley to keep his foot on home plate and snare Pearce's throw tailing away from him. Darren O'Day on now to try and keep the Royals from scoring in the 9th. Bases are still loaded.
Britton walks Cain! The Royals were giving up an out and the lefty couldn't even get one of the batters to chase a pitch. This is atrocious. Darren O'Day is warming in the bullpen.
Lorenzo Cain up now. He also shows bunt and takes two pitches for balls. Britton has now thrown 12 pitches, only two of them for strikes.
Jarrod Dyson was showing bunt there, but Britton didn't ever really come close to throwing a strike. The speedy Dyson takes the free pass, and now the Royals have two on with no outs. Not how you want to start the inning off.
Britton kicks off the 9th by walking Escobar. Will be interesting to see what Ned Yost has the Royals do on the basepaths here.
Davis makes quick work of Nick Hundley, Jonathan Schoop, and Nick Markakis. Buck calls on his closer Zach Britton to keep this game tied.
The tall southpaw proved he wasn't shaken, setting down Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, and Mike Moustakas in order after plunking Gordon. Wade Davis is coming on to pitch the bottom of the 8th for the Royals. Both teams still with five runs apiece.
Buck brings Miller back out to face the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon, but it didn't start off as planned, with Miller hitting Gordon in between his left shoulder and neck. Gordon walked to first under his own power and seems to be okay. Gotta figure the ball is getting pretty slippery with all this rain.
Here's something you don't see often: With two outs, catcher Salvador Perez called timeout during the middle of an at-bat to get a new mitt. Didn't seem to bother Herrera, though, as the reliever retired the Orioles in order. We head to the 8th with the score still tied up 5-5.
The rain is coming down pretty steady now. But the grounds crew remains in their shed out in right field. Looks like the umpiring crew is going to try and get this one finished.
Miller gives up a single to Eric Hosmer but manages to bring the 7th to a close by striking out Billy Butler. Time for the 7th inning stretch and some John Denver.
And sure enough they do. Dyson runs with Lorenzo Cain at the plate. Dyson beat the catcher Hundley's low throw, but he came off the bag and Schoop very wisely stayed with the play and tagged him out. Gausman then punches Cain out. Big momentum swing for the Orioles there. Buck going to the mound to bring on his stud lefty, Andrew Miller.
Nori Aoki walks to start off the 7th, and Yost brings on Jarrod Dyson to pinch run. Gausman has thrown over there several times, nearly picking Dyson off. For a team with a lot of speed, the Royals haven't really threatened to run too much tonight. But they're showing signs they may start.
It really looked like the good fortune was going to continue for the O's in the 6th. Adam Jones grounded out to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who stepped on the bag and then threw the ball away attempting to double up Jones. Unfortunately, Nelson Cruz ended the inning by grounding into a double play.
Seriously, that is one of the luckiest series of plays you'll ever see. But when it comes to October, you don't question such things. Adam Jones up now to try and give the Orioles the lead. Kelvin Herrera on for the Royals.
Orioles get two incredibly lucky breaks. First, De Aza failed to drop a bunt, and the catcher Perez caught Jonathan Schoop in no man's land between second and third. Perez fired to Escobar covering second, and Schoop took off for third. Escobar's throw hit Schoop in the back and shot off toward the Royals dugout. Then, De Aza comes up and hits an infield bloop that falls just behind the pitcher's mound and in front of the diving shortstop Schoop scores. 5-5 tie. The rain is starting to pour now, but the fans don't seem bothered in the least.
Nick Markakis drops a single into right field, and the Orioles once again have something cooking.
Gausman works a clean 6th. And Royals manager Ned Yost is pulling Shields from the ballgame and bringing on lefty reliever Brandon Finnegan to face Jonathan Schoop. The free-swinging Schoop draws a walk, and now the lineup turns over.
J.J. Hardy got caught looking on a full-count punchout. But Ryan Flaherty is able to come right in and deliver a single to right field, scoring two runs. Nick Hundley lined out to second on a ball that looked like it might sneak through and tie this game up. 5-4 Royals, and Kevin Gausman is coming on to pitch for the Orioles. Gotta hope he pitches like he did in Game 2 of the ALDS.
And Pearce draws a walk to load the bases. The Royals hold a conference on the mound to try and settle down their ace pitcher. At worst, the Orioles should at least get a sacrifice fly here to score another run. But you gotta hope Hardy can deliver more than that.
Cruz delivers AGAIN, hitting a double to left De Aza scores and the O's now have two men on in scoring position. 5-2 Royals. But the Orioles have a really good chance at chipping away some more.
Jones hits a weak grounder to third and Moustakas takes it to the bag to get the lead runner, Markakis. Still two on with only one out. Cruz up now and a possible rally is in the works.
The Camden Yards crowd is showing some life now after back-to-back singles by Markakis and De Aza. Adam Jones is taking practice swings as the crowd serenades him with "Seven Nation Army."
Billy Butler hits a deep fly to the gap in right-center that Jones chases down for an out. But Cain is able to score, making it 5-1 Royals now.
Eric Hosmer follows it up with a hard-hit grounder to Schoop, who made a nifty sliding stop before firing it to first for the out. Cain advanced to third. Apparently manager Buck Showalter had seen enough, pulling Tillman for Tommy Hunter. Showalter knows how important winning this first game in front of the home crowd is, and he wasted no time turning the ball over to his shut-down bullpen. Now the hope is that the relievers can continue to lock things down and let the bats battle back.
Lorenzo Cain starts the 5th inning off with a double to the gap in right center. Adam Jones made a nice slide to cut the ball off and threw a dart to Hardy, covering second base, but the speedy Cain got in just under the tag.
The Orioles can't capitalize on a one-out bloop single from Ryan Flaherty, with catcher Nick Hundley caught looking on a low and away fastball for strike three and Jonathan Schoop grounding out to close the 4th. Shields has really settled down for Kansas City.
Tillman seemed to regain a bit of his control there. After walking Omar Infante and going 3-0 on Mike Moustakas, the starter battled back to get Moustakas, Escobar, and Aoki to fly out. It's hard to imagine he'll get too deep into this game, but keeping things under control is critical.
The internet is getting a little spotty in the left field club level press area, so you probably don't need me to tell you Markakis scored on an Adam Jones single. Or that Alex Gordon made a diving catch in left field to rob Steve Pearce of extra bases. But I can tell you answering right back with a run is a nice boost for the offense.
Nick Markakis laces a curve ball down the first base line for a leadoff double. That's exactly what you need to start the inning off.
Tillman gets Perez to fly out and escape the 4th inning. The energy has been sapped from the crowd a bit after that one. Not even Huey Lewis playing over the P.A. can cheer them up.
Alex Gordon clears the bases with a double and ends up taking third on an error. 4-0 Royals now. The Orioles rely on keeping things tight, and it feels like this one is getting away from them a little bit now, but it's still early. Manager Buck Showalter has already got Tommy Hunter warming up in the bullpen.
In a real bind here. Butler gets an infield single to load the bases for Alex Gordon. Hardy was able to field the ball in the hole and get off a throw to Pearce, but the first baseman, who did a split to try and make the pick, couldn't hold on. Bases loaded.
Tillman in a bit of trouble all the sudden, giving up a single to Norichikia Aoki and then following it up with a walk to Lorenzo Cain.
After getting Mike Moustakas to ground out to first, Alcides Escobar hits a HIGH home run to the left field seats. 1-0 Royals.
The bad news: Jonathan Schoop hit a weak pop out to second base to end the inning. The good news: Shields has a pretty high pitch count through two innings.
After a Ryan Flaherty strikeout, catcher Nick Hundley hits one deep in the hole at short. Alcides Escobar was able to field it cleanly but couldn't make the throw in time. Sacks full with two outs.
After lines out to center, Hardy shoots a single into left field with two strikes in the count. Two on with only one out. Starting to feel some rain up here in the second deck.
Nelson Cruz continues to deliver. The designated hitter worked the count full on Shields and then poked a single back up the middle to start the 2nd inning. Steve Pearce up now to try and capitalize.
A Billy Butler leadoff single is erased as Omar Infante flies out toward the right-center field gap. Tillman was able to dial up his fastball to 93 MPH to catch Alex Gordon looking for the first out of the inning. Seeing him have a little extra zip on his heater is a good sign.
The recently extended J.J. Hardy just climbed the ladder to snare a Salvador Perez liner for the second out of the 2nd inning. That's why you lock a guy like that up. The Camden Yards faithful cheer "Hardy! Hardy! Hardy!"
"Big Game" James Shields retires the Orioles in order on 11 pitches. On the plus side, he threw six strikes to five balls. The first two Orioles hitters, Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza, had solid at bats, taking aggressive swings early and then working the count against Shields.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman had a really solid first inning there, getting two quick outs and throwing his fastball for strikes. The only trouble really came when Lorenzo Cain got an infield hit on a really nice Tillman curve. The righty came back and struck out Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer on another great hook.
The teams have been introduced, the National Anthem has been performed, and we are about go get underway with Game 1 of the ALCS, the first League Championship Series in Baltimore since 1997. Chris Tillman is taking his last warmup pitches.