KANSAS CITY - The Orioles and Kansas City Royals didn’t look like they gave a darn last night about any No. 1 draft pick. They both went hard to win a game. Down 2-1 in the sixth, the Royals scored twice off Dylan Bundy. Down 3-2 in the eighth, the Orioles scored twice to take a 4-3 lead.
Then the ninth inning happened.
Manager Buck Showalter had made no such proclamation that Mychal Givens is the Orioles closer but he has been. Givens went 4-for-5 in save chances since Aug. 5 heading into last night. He had thrown seven scoreless his last eight games with an ERA of 2.25 and eight strikeouts in eight innings.
Then the ninth inning happened.
Trying to wrap up a 4-3 comeback win he walked the leadoff hitter, No. 8 batter Brett Phillips on four pitches and he was bunted to second base. Then Givens made a terrible 0-2 pitch and Whit Merrifield hammered a 95 mph fastball 415 feet for his first walk-off homer. It was Kansas City’s third walk-off win and the Orioles’ eighth walk-off loss and fourth on an opponent home run.
Merrifield has been red-hot. But Givens did some heavy lifting to get ahead 0-2 in the count. Then catcher Austin Wynns called for a pitch down and away and it went up and in. He didn’t miss his spot. He didn’t come close.
In the quiet of the O’s clubhouse the right-hander fell on the sword for the loss.
“Walked the leadoff guy and made a bad 0-2 pitch,” he said. “Today, especially with how our team’s been playing. We’ve been playing really good, battling circumstances with what’s been going on this year. Today, I failed the team as far as [I] didn’t close out the game. They worked their butts off getting back in the game. Just have to do a better job. A bad 0-2 pitch. I was trying to just locate it down and away. The ball got away from me, and got into his bat path.”
Givens said closing games for a team that doesn’t have many save chances is no excuse for not coming through when they finally do have one.
“This is a tough year for us, but it doesn’t matter. In that situation, the job should be done and I should have closed out the game. I failed the team as far as not being able to do my job today. That’s basically it. It doesn’t matter what we’ve been doing in the past few games. We’ve been playing our butts off and I should get the job done,” Givens said.
When Trey Mancini homered to tie the game 3-3 in the eighth and Tim Beckham doubled in the lead run, the Orioles were ahead 4-3. Paul Fry pitched a scoreless eighth and the Orioles were potentially going to win their first game all year when trailing after the seventh inning. They had been 0-82. Instead they are now 0-83 and 35-3 when leading after eight innings.
I asked manager Buck Showalter if Givens can learn from a situation where he had such an advantage in the count only to give up the walk-off homer.
“I don’t know if it’s learning, Mike’s biggest issue is his command,” said Showalter. “If you go back through, I think probably the two pitches to the bunter are balls. There’s no count in any [role] - it’s not just closing, there’s pressure in different situations. There’s a certain finality to that inning. It’s a great job if you’re good at it. We’re going to continue to look for potential people down the road and Mike’s one of them.”
Kansas City now has a four-game winning streak for the first time all year and first since July of 2017. The Royals have scored 46 runs and hit .323 with 15 homers in winning six of their last seven games.
Just this week the Orioles swept a three-game home series from Toronto. That now feels like it happened two weeks ago. The O’s offense produced 29 runs in that series and O’s batters went 18-for-38 (.474) with runners in scoring position in that series. They’ve scored six runs in two games in this series, going 1-for-9 with RISP.
Mancini’s bat is still sizzling. His game-tying homer in the eight off former Oriole Jason Hammel was part of a two-hit night and he’s got nine extra-base hits his last seven games. In that span, Mancini is 12-for-27 (.444) with four doubles, a triple, four homers and 10 RBIs.
Jonathan Villar stole second base in the third inning. The Oriole are 10-for-11 in stolen base attempts their last six games and have 15 steals their past 15 games.
Beckham went with two singles, a solo homer and RBI double. He had been 3-for-21 his previous games. It was his fourth career game of at least four hits. He also produced his first go-ahead RBI in the eighth-inning or later since Sept. 12, 2017 at Toronto.
If the Orioles lose this afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, it will be the 15th time this year they have been swept in a series of three or more games. When they swept Toronto Wednesday it was their first such sweep of the 2018 season.