'Pen blows lead as Royals swept

'Pen blows lead as Royals swept

BALTIMORE -- Even after Ambiorix Burgos had walked the bases loaded, even when a three-run lead looked more perilous than safe, Doug Mientkiewicz didn't lose faith in the Kansas City Royals closer.

"I'll take Burgie with a three-run lead in the ninth inning against anybody. ... Even with the bases loaded and nobody out, I still thought we were going to get out of it," Mientkiewicz said. "Sacrifice fly? OK. Ground ball and we're out of the game. Game over"

But a team that seems to invent creative ways to lose came up with another heartbreaking road to defeat Sunday, wasting a two-run eighth-inning rally, a ninth-inning insurance run and gift-wrapping an 8-7 victory for the Baltimore Orioles.

"We just find all kind of ways," manager Buddy Bell said, his voice trailing off in frustration after the Royals dropped their third straight game and fell to 0-9 against American League East teams. "You can't explain it. I don't have a whole lot to say."

After drawing 12 walks from Baltimore pitchers and making the most of nine hits -- five of them after the seventh inning -- the Royals turned over a 7-4 lead to Burgos. The right-hander had a hand in seven of the team's 10 wins, saving six and picking up one victory.

But on Sunday, Burgos couldn't find the plate. Eighteen of his 29 pitches, and 12 of the first 14, were balls. Burgos threw a first-pitch ball to each of the seven hitters he faced and went 2-0 to the first five batters.

"Burgos usually comes in and throws strikes," lamented Bell. "It's unexplainable."

Burgos walked Miguel Tejada on four pitches, then passed Jay Gibbons and Ramon Hernandez on 3-1 counts. Jeff Conine followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to two runs and Burgos got Corey Patterson on a swinging third strike for the second out.

Javy Lopez stroked a single to center to plate Gibbons and Nick Markakis shot a single to right to tie the game. Bell had seen enough of Burgos and called for Jimmy Gobble to face rookie Brandon Fahey with the winning run at second.

"When you're a closer, you don't get a mulligan," said Mientkiewicz. "There's not a second chance."

Kevin Millar pinch-hit for Fahey and worked Gobble to a 3-2 count before hitting an inside fastball for a soft liner into right field. Aaron Guiel fired home, his throw beating Lopez to the plate. But Lopez tripped over the legs of catcher Paul Bako and slapped the plate with his right hand before Bako could recover and apply a tag.

"All I could tell was that he tripped on my legs. The replay showed it wasn't close. He was by me when I got the tag," Bako said.

So instead of salvaging one game of the series at Camden Yards, the Royals were swept in Baltimore for the first time since June 14-16, 1999. By the time Kansas City opens a four-game series in Cleveland on Monday night, the bad taste may have subsided.

But the Royals' 2-17 road mark, and their 10-25 overall record, both worst in the Major Leagues, won't have changed.

"It stinks," said Mientkiewicz.

The Royals spent all afternoon searching for offense, and had every chance to exploit the wildness of Cabrera, who walked seven to push his Major League-leading total to 39. Three times in his four innings, Cabrera walked the first hitter he faced; twice, he walked the first two hitters, including the fourth, when the Royals had the bases loaded and no outs.

"Cabrera is feast or famine. You almost pray you don't get strike one," Mientkiewicz said. "He throws so hard, has a good angle and good stuff. But his command is all over the place."

Despite the generosity, the Royals couldn't capitalize. They got a 1-0 lead in the first on Matt Stairs' sacrifice fly, but the Orioles tied it in the bottom of the inning when catcher John Buck's passed ball allowed Fahey to score.

Baltimore went ahead off Royals starter Denny Bautista -- who lasted four innings in his second start since returning from a stint on the disabled list with a sore right pectoral muscle -- in the third on a Gibbons RBI double and Hernandez's run-scoring single. Kansas City trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the fourth when Guiel walked and scored on Kerry Robinson's fielder's choice.

In the sixth, Buck hit a two-out game-tying RBI single that plated Tony Graffanino, who had walked and stolen second. An unearned run in the seventh put the Royals ahead, 4-3.

Tejada homered off Mike Wood leading off the seventh to tie it, and a strange eighth inning unfolded as the Royals went up 6-4.

Berroa opened with a single off Todd Williams, but was erased when Williams fielded Buck's hard bunt and caught Berroa at second. After Robinson's single to center, Esteban German pinch-ran for Buck.

Mark Grudzielanek singled to center, driving home German to break the 4-all tie and putting Robinson at third. Mientkiewicz then slapped a comebacker to the mound that was fielded by Williams, who threw to second. Shortstop Tejada, who was cutting in front of the bag, gloved the throw and relayed to first as Robinson scored. After an intentional walk to Stairs, Williams retired Emil Brown on a grounder that knocked his glove off.

Even an insurance run in the ninth inning was wasted. Guiel led off with a double into the right-field corner off winner John Halama (2-1), moved to third on Graffanino's sacrifice and scored on Berroa's single up the middle.

"Coming back, who cares whether we lose by one run or lose by a hundred," Bako said. "Today was a loss. To battle back was irrelevant."

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.