O’s Fall to Hot Royals

The Baltimore Orioles’ magical 2014 season, which started in February with a backdrop of sunny skies and palm trees in Sarasota, Florida, has come to a disappointing end after running into one of the hottest teams in baseball.

The Orioles lost to the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, as the Royals capped off a sweep at Kauffman Stadium to reach the World Series for the first time since winning it all in 1985. Kansas City won the series thanks in large part to better play from its bullpen, and highlight-reel defensive plays all over the field.

After jumping out to a 4-1 lead after three innings in Game 1, Baltimore pulled to within 5-4 by scoring three runs in the fifth, highlighted by third baseman Ryan Flaherty’s two-run single. The Orioles tied the game at 5 in the sixth on an infield single by left fielder Alejandro De Aza that fell in front of a diving Alcides Escobar just behind the pitcher’s mound. In the ninth, Zach Britton walked the bases loaded, but got out of the jam by inducing a force-out at home and a double play. He wasn’t so lucky in the 10th, when Royals left fielder Alex Gordon led off with a home run to right. With one out, Mike Moustakas drilled a two-run shot to right-center to put Kansas City up 8-5. In the bottom of the inning, Flaherty singled to right with two out. Pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes walked, and Delmon Young followed by coming off the bench and hitting a single to center that scored Flaherty. However, Royals closer Greg Holland got Nick Markakis to ground out to second to close out an 8-6 win.

In Game 2, it was the Lorenzo Cain Show. Cain went 4 for 5 with a double and an RBI, and robbed J.J. Hardy of an extra-base hit with a spectacular diving catch to end the seventh. In the ninth, Escobar broke a 4-4 tie with a single to right that scored pinch-runner Terrence Gore. Cain followed with his RBI single to left, scoring Escobar. Holland allowed only a two-out single to Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the ninth before striking out Steve Pearce to end the game and give the Royals a 2-0 series lead heading back to Kansas City.

After being delayed a day by rain, Game 3 saw the Orioles get a lead for the first time in the series, as Pearce and Hardy hit back-to-back doubles to give Baltimore a 1-0 lead. However, after Gordon tied the game with an RBI groundout with the bases loaded, the game featured more stellar defense by the Royals, this time with Moustakas. Adam Jones hit a pop-up in foul territory that was heading towards a group of field-box seats near the Orioles dugout. Moustakas reached over the railing, caught the ball and held on while tumbling over the railing and being caught and helped back onto the field by fans. In the bottom of the inning, Butler hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Jerrod Dyson to give the Royals a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t give up. The Orioles managed only three hits, and their final 16 batters were retired in order.

The following afternoon brought out a dominantly blue-clad crowd that featured some fans holding brooms looking for the sweep. The home team gave them something to cheer about early, as Escobar singled, and right fielder Nori Aoki was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the first. Cain laid down a sacrifice bunt to move up both runners, and Eric Hosmer hit a grounder to Pearce. However, catcher Caleb Joseph couldn’t handle Pearce’s throw, and both runners scored to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead.

In the third, Flaherty led off with a long home run that stayed inside the right-field foul pole to make it 2-1, but that was as close as the Orioles would get. Hardy led off the fifth with a long fly ball to deep left, but Gordon tracked it down and held on despite crashing hard into the fence in front of the out-of-town scoreboard. The collision was so hard that Gordon was slow to get up. In the sixth, Jonathan Schoop led off by drawing a walk, and went to third on a two-out single by Jones, but was stranded there when Cruz lined out to second. In the ninth, Jones led off with a walk, but Cruz hit into a fielder’s choice back to Holland. Delmon Young struck out, and Hardy grounded out to third to set off the celebration in Kansas City.

Cain was named the MVP of the series. He went 8 for 15 in addition to his impressive defense. The Royals will face the winner of the National League Championship Series (either San Francisco or cross-state rival St. Louis) in the World Series, and will have home-field advantage.