KANSAS CITY - The clock kept ticking, except innings passed instead of minutes.
The Orioles were down by a run in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Royals’ dominate late-inning relief cast a larger shadow than the one that crept across the infield.
The Orioles had to take the lead or risk being swept. They knew it. Everyone in the ballpark knew it.
They just couldn’t do it.
The 2014 season ended for the Orioles with the Royals creating a dogpile in the infield following their 2-1 victory at Kauffman Stadium. Ninety-nine victories weren’t enough to reach the World Series for the first time since 1983. Not enough to take a single game in the ALCS.
Not enough, at least right away, to soothe the hurt feelings.
A few players lingered in the dugout to watch the celebration, which had to slice through them like a knife. They hung along the railing, some heads bowed, then turned and headed inside. They lost four games by a total of six runs. The Royals were just a little bit better, flashing Gold Glove defense and power arms and blinding speed and unbridled enthusiasm that came across as cocky and annoying to a team that couldn’t do anything to stop it.
The Royals were 72-1 during the regular season when leading in the top of the eighth inning. They were ahead today since the bottom of the first, when they scored twice on an infield hit, a hit batter, a sacrifice bunt and a ground ball that led to an error on catcher Caleb Joseph.
There’s Kansas City-style barbeque and Kansas City-style rallies.
Ryan Flaherty hit a 411-foot home run in the third inning. J.J. Hardy hit a fly ball to left field in the fifth that would have been a home run at Camden Yards. Naturally, Alex Gordon made a leaping catch at the warning track and face-planted into the fence.
His teammates raised their caps to him, another gesture that probably chafed the visitors. Again, they couldn’t do anything to stop it.
The Orioles never had been swept in a playoff series before this year. They led for 2 1/2 innings against the Royals, the small-market team that is trying to run the table in the postseason, the team that barely made it out of the wild card game.
A team that pounds its chest after every hit.
The Orioles may want to bang their heads against a wall.
No Royals starter recorded an out after the sixth inning in the series, but it didn’t matter. Not with that bullpen and that defense and that speed and all those breaks.
Bud Norris is the only Orioles starter to complete six innings in seven playoff games. He went 6 1/3 in Game 3 of the Division Series at Comerica Park.
Adam Jones walked twice today and Jonathan Schoop walked once. That alone should have been a sign that something special was going to happen. Schoop raced to third on Jones’ two-out single in the sixth, but Nelson Cruz lined to second baseman Omar Infante.
A hard-hit ball aimed directly at a Kansas City player. Bad luck or good positioning? Does it really matter?
Jones led off the ninth with his second walk and was erased on Cruz’s comebacker to Greg Holland. Two outs later, the entire team was erased.
Manager Buck Showalter wanted the baseball gods to let his guys up and reward them, but they wore royal blue. Fortunately, they didn’t borrow one of Jeremy Guthrie’s T-shirts.
The Orioles are 5-5 in the ALCS, also losing in 1997, 1996, 1974 and 1973. Add the Royals to the list of heartbreakers, joining the Indians, Yankees and Athletics.
The game stories will read like obits, and that’s a shame. The Orioles won their division by 12 games. Showalter won his first postseason series and will be a runaway winner for American League Manager of the Year - the votes turned in by the end of the regular season.
Showalter truly believed that if the Orioles could have gotten one win under their belts, the series would have shifted dramatically in their favor. Just one game.
They never got it. And now they have to try to find all the good that came out of their season.
It shouldn’t be too hard. The disappointment and anger that hangs so heavily in the air just needs to clear out.