Orioles 3, Royals 2
Their owner is rampaging, their alleged ace leads the majors in losses, their rookie manager is feeling embattled, their most expensive hitters are failing in critical situations and their lowliest division rival has blown by them in the standings. But on a green patch of earth in the country's heartland, the Baltimore Orioles this week took the first step toward reclaiming their lost season.
A hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals gave the Orioles three wins in this four-game series against the American League Central's bottom-feeders, marking the Orioles' first series win (not counting one-game makeup dates) since late May.
An 8-19 June is behind them, and a 1-0 July is underway.
After starter Rodrigo Lopez (6-4) provided six stellar innings, the Orioles (33-42) seized the lead with a three-run seventh inning, and their bullpen collected the final nine outs to carry home the win in front of 22,960 at Kauffman Stadium.
The Orioles arrived here Sunday night following a debilitating 8-7 loss to Atlanta that afternoon, in which they blew a seven-run lead. They left here late Thursday night with a slightly better outlook on their season.
The rebounding job, Manager Lee Mazzilli said, "shows you something pretty impressive" about his team.
The Orioles' winning rally in the seventh came against right-hander Zach Greinke, the Royals' 20-year-old ace-in-training. The sequence began with Rafael Palmeiro's 11th homer of the season and ended five batters later with David Newhan's RBI single against reliever Shawn Camp to put the Orioles ahead.
After giving up a pair of runs in the first inning -- when the Royals cobbled together four singles in a span of six batters, most of them hit like rockets -- Lopez settled down and pitched spectacularly, retiring 15 straight batters after the first inning, with only two balls leaving the infield.
By the end of the sixth, Lopez had thrown only 68 pitches. Still, Mazzilli made the unusual move of pulling him and replacing him with lefty B.J. Ryan to start the seventh.
Had the move blown up, Mazzilli would have been faced with pointed questions about the quick hook, but Ryan, right-hander Jason Grimsley and closer Jorge Julio combined for three perfect innings -- as the Orioles combined to retire the last 24 Kansas City batters in order -- with Julio collecting his 11th save.
"It wasn't tough at all," Mazzilli said of the decision to lift Lopez. "Not when you have your main guys in the right situations. . . . They filled the bill."
Greinke (1-5), the youngest active player in the majors (about four months younger than the New York Mets' Jose Reyes), carried a shutout into the seventh inning, making it appear those two runs the Royals scored against Lopez might hold up for the entire game.
Though he has only eight major league starts under his belt, Greinke is already legendary among scouts for his ability to change speeds so radically and consistently. One scout who had seen a recent start noted that Greinke had hit all but six numbers on the radar gun between 62 mph and 92 mph.
Indeed, the Orioles' hitters were off-balance most of the night because of Greinke's ability to change speeds. At one point, Greinke struck out Melvin Mora in a four-pitch at-bat in which the radar-gun readings were 79, 91, 86 and 63 mph.
After six innings of flailing helplessly against Greinke -- at one point things were so dire that Miguel Tejada bunted his way on base, his first bunt single of the year -- finally, in the top of the seventh, the Orioles broke through. And once they did they pounded Greinke, eventually chasing him from the game.
Palmeiro's leadoff homer to right -- his first in two weeks -- cut the Royals' two-run lead in half. Javy Lopez followed with a sharp double down the third base line, and he scored two batters later when Hairston doubled into the left-field corner.
Robert Machado's infield single marked the end of the night for Greinke, but Newhan (who had gone 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Greinke) greeted Camp by riding a tough sinker into left field for an RBI single that drove in the go-ahead run.
Orioles Notes: With three games coming up in Philadelphia under National League rules, Mazzilli gave Javy Lopez a breather by using him as the designated hitter.
Lopez has started behind the plate in 63 of the team's 75 games, with 10 stints as designated hitter and two full days off. By this point last season with Atlanta, he had already had 21 full days off -- although five of those were because of a sore hamstring.
"We've had a lot of days off for rain, and those are days off [for Lopez] as well," Mazzilli said.
In many cases, potential DH starts for Lopez have been wiped out because the team is trying to find playing time for both of its second basemen, Hairston and Brian Roberts, with Hairston leading the team in DH starts. . . .
Tejada and Newhan extended their hitting streaks to 16 and 13 games, respectively.