BALTIMORE (AP) –– Nelson Cruz and the Baltimore Orioles are supposed to be the big homer hitters in the AL Championship Series.
Didn’t work out that way in Game 1.READ MORE: Strike Averted: IATSE And AMPTP Have 'Basic Contract' Agreement, Per Officials With The Theatrical Stage Employees Union
Orioles pitchers allowed the only three long balls in the rain-soaked ALCS opener, including Alex Gordon’s no-doubt-about-it solo shot and Mike Moustakas’ two-run wall-scraper in the 10th inning, and Baltimore lost 8-6 to the Kansas City Royals in a game that finished after 12:45 a.m. Saturday.
Game 2 is Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, with the Royals starting rookie left-hander Yordano Ventura against either lefty Wei-Yin Chen or righty Bud Norris.
Baltimore topped baseball this season with 211 homers, led by Cruz’s majors-high 40, while Kansas City ranked last with 95. Didn’t matter on this night, no matter how loudly and often the sellout crowd of 47,124 chanted “Let’s go, O’s!” or “We won’t stop!” while twirling their orange towels.
Of Baltimore’s 14 hits, only two went for extra bases — a pair of doubles. Otherwise, it was single here, single there, and not enough to show for it.
The rowdy home fans got real quiet after the go-ahead drive by Gordon — his first since early September — leading off the 10th against sidearmer Darren O’Day to break a 5-5 tie, and a pack of Royals fans could suddenly be heard. Moustakas connected off Brian Matusz, the sixth reliever to come out of Baltimore’s normally reliable bullpen, to make it 8-5.
No playoff team has been as successful beyond the ninth inning as the 2014 Royals.
The Royals already were the first team in major league history to win three consecutive extra-inning postseason games: They beat the Athletics in the wild-card game in 12 innings, then won each of the first two games of their ALDS sweep of the Angels in 11.READ MORE: Taylor's Blunder, Other Missed Chances Put LA In NLCS Hole
Those wins over Los Angeles both came via homers, just like this latest victory.
Kansas City started things against Baltimore by going deep, too, making for neat bookends.
In what would become a four-run third inning thanks to Gordon’s bases-loaded, broken-bat double, Orioles starter Chris Tillman tried to sneak a 90 mph fastball on a 2-0 count past Alcides Escobar.
The ball landed a few rows past the wall in left for a rare homer: The shortstop had three in 2014, and only 21 in nearly 3,000 career at-bats across parts of seven seasons in the majors. As Escobar rounded third, he let out a shout and pointed to the sky.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter declined to say before the game who would start Game 2, then said it would be Bud Norris. Keep an eye on Ventura’s pitch count: When he throws more than 100 in a game, the opponents’ batting average rises to .300. He is 1-1 with a 1.26 ERA against the Orioles. J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis are both 4 for 6 against him; Cruz has hit Baltimore’s only homer off him.
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The start of the game was delayed — not by rain, but by a few bright lights used for a TV set just beyond center field. When Royals leadoff batter Escobar stepped into the batter’s box, he pointed his black bat out in that direction, and the umpires held up play, while Journey’s “Lights” blared on the speakers, until the offending orbs were shut off.