KANSAS CITY - The Orioles are 0-for-12 in the first inning in the American League Championship Series. So much for jumping on the opposing pitcher early.
The Royals had much greater success today in Game 4, scoring twice off Miguel Gonzalez to take a 2-0 lead.
They made two nice defensive plays in the top half of the inning and leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar reached on an infield hit. Same script, different day.
Gonzalez drilled Nori Aoki on the side of the right knee, causing some Royals to bark from the dugout. As if Gonzalez wanted to put two runners on base with no outs and his team on the brink of elimination.
Hot-hiting Lorenzo Cain laid down a sacrifice bunt, which makes sense in manager Ned Yost’s world, and Eric Hosmer followed with a grounder to first baseman Steve Pearce.
Pearce’s throw home beat Escobar, but the Royals shortstop slid into catcher Caleb Joseph’s mitt and knocked the ball loose. A second run scored on Joseph’s error.
Two runs, one earned, on an infield hit, hit batter, sacrifice and ground ball/error catcher. It’s been that kind of series.
Gonzalez issued a two-out walk before retiring Salvador Perez.
Chris Tillman will start Game 5 if the ALCS goes beyond today. He’s available in the bullpen, but fully prepared to pitch on Thursday.
Asked about the attitude inside the clubhouse, Tillman said, “From what I noticed, it’s business as usual. We can win three games just as fast as we can lose three games. I think we’ve shown that all year long. Being down 3‑0 means nothing to us.
“It’s the time of year we’ve got to win and I think we know that. We’re up for the challenge. We’ve had challenges all year, it’s nothing new. Like I said, just execute here and there, get a big hit when we need it, make a big pitch when we have to.”
And avoid innings like the first today.
Of course, Tillman was asked about Jeremy Guthrie’s T-shirt and Jarrod Dyson’s mouth.
“I have heard about it,” he said. “I didn’t really see the Dyson comments. I saw the pictures of last night. As far as I’m concerned, I think our clubhouse is concerned, we can only control what happens in our clubhouse and our dugout. That’s all we’re worried about. We’ve got more important things to worry about than fashion of the other team. I think we’ve got to focus on winning, and that’s first and foremost right now.”
Tillman said he didn’t contact Guthrie.
“I haven’t, no,” Tillman said. “I’m sure someone has. I’m not 100 percent sure. But he sent me a text apologizing this morning and I haven’t had a chance to text him back. I’ve got to focus on the start tomorrow. We might have time to worry about that later, just not right now.”
Fans were wondering last night why manager Buck Showalter didn’t send up Delmon Young as a pinch-hitter for Jonathan Schoop or Nick Hundley. Showalter said he considered replacing Schoop, but the rookie had a few good at-bats. And most important, the Orioles don’t want to sacrifice defense at second base.
“That’s been a challenge for us is the next line,” Showalter said. “It really drops off.”
Kelly Johnson is the utility infielder with Schoop and Ryan Flaherty starting every game. Jimmy Paredes could pinch-hit, but he’s labored in the field.
Showalter said Kevin Gausman is “iffy” to pitch today after facing eight batters last night.
Flaherty’s defense has kept him in the lineup today. Also, he’s 2-for-4 against left-hander Jason Vargas.
Showalter has talked about wanting the chance to “roll the dice in October.” Well, he got it, and that expression may take on added meaning with his club down 3-0 in games.
“I’m proud of the way our guys have approached it,” Showalter said. “It’s been a very razor-thin difference. Hopefully, we get a few bounces going our way and we can get it snowballing the other way. Obviously, they’re a very formidable team. They’ve done a lot of things to get here, but so have we. So, just trying to stay true to the baseball gods and hopefully they’ll let some very deserving guys up off the mat in here.”
Showalter isn’t ready to become reflective on the 2014 season. He isn’t ready to discuss whether it’s been a special season no matter what happens from here.
“You know, I appreciate that,” he said. “Obviously, the answer is yes, but there’s a sense of finality or fate, if that’s the question to be answered later. It’s not going to change. My respect and... I don’t want to go too far beyond that, but love is unconditional.
“When you go through the things that we go through together and you see the challenges they face and how they respond so much out of the glare of the spotlight, so many things go on that make you want to return that and do your job, whether it’s the pitching coach, a hitting coach, a teammate. This is a group of people that don’t want to let each other down, so it’s unconditional.
“I just hope that they continue to get... what they’re going to get back and already have. Of course, you know they’re saying the same things. They put great things in this season, too, so it’s not like it’s one‑sided.
“You seek your level. You are who you are. This game exposes everything. And it’s such a momentum time of the year. And we’d like to get some of that heading in our direction. But there’s nobody in there thinking about something being inevitable or whatever. You kidding me? They’re not wound like that.”
Showalter also has talked about how badly the players want to win this series. Can a team want it too much? How do you strike a balance?
“Can you change that? No,” Showalter said. “Quit caring so much? I said yesterday with Doris Day, ‘Que Sera, Sera.’
“No, that’s one of the reasons why we’re here. Because we’re playing in Toronto, whoever, in front of 10,000 people in a hot day game, getaway day, that’s how you win those games, because you care. You hold yourself to a high level and you don’t give in over 162 games. That’s why you’re here, and you don’t want to turn that of.
“That’s why I say, if you can get one under your belt, things have a way of - nobody is more religious and this is not sacrilegious - but the baseball gods will be kind to you if you stay true. I’m just hoping that they get a return for their want-to. And we’ll see.
“It can be a cruel game, too. You can hit four line drives at people and then some other team, us, flares. They see flares and broken bats, that was a cheap hit. But the strength and size factor of major league players always hit me. Those balls are getting muscled out over the infield, where in the minor leagues and college baseball, they don’t get to a spot. They don’t get deep enough. There’s skill that goes into that. I know, because we had a lot of broken-bat singles. I remember every one of them. They used to call it Showalter Corner, over the third baseman’s head and hit chalk and hit left. It was a double in the box score the next day, though.”
Showalter had to make one more Chris Brown reference before leaving the interview room.
“Now, I’ve got to go listen to this song?” he asked. “Won’t be playing in my house in the offseason?”
Update: Flaherty rewarded Showalter by hitting a home run leading off the top of the third to reduce Kansas City’s lead to 2-1.
Flaherty’s seven regular season home runs came at Camden Yards. Today’s homer was measured at 411 feet.
Update II: Vargas came out of the game after 5 1/3 innings. Adam Jones singled off Kelvin Herrera with two outs to move Jonathan Schoop to third, but Nelson Cruz lined to second baseman Omar Infante.
Of course, a line drive directly at a Royals’ infielder. Story of the series.
Update III: Gonzalez allowed two runs (one earned) and four hits in 5 2/3 innings, with four walks, four strikeouts, two hit batters and a wild pitch. He threw 84 pitches, 49 for strikes.
Darren O’Day stranded two runners in the sixth.
Bud Norris is the only Orioles starter to complete six innings in the postseason.