Royals burned by strategic walk

Royals burned by strategic walk

KANSAS CITY -- It could be worse, even though the Royals have lost 11 straight games to the Baltimore Orioles.

The latest came, 7-4, on Friday night, as Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff crashed home runs off Royals starter Gil Meche in front of 21,873 fans at chilly Kauffman Stadium.

"Yeah, it's a freak thing, I guess," the Royals' Mark Teahen said. "They've just got our number, I guess."

Not the number, though, that the Orioles rang up against the Royals in 1969-70. In those first two years of the Royals' existence, the O's won 23 straight games against them, and that's a Major League record.

See, Trey Hillman, it could be worse.

"I appreciate that," the Royals' manager said dryly.

More immediately relevant conversation after the game centered on Hillman's decision to intentionally walk Nick Markakis with two outs in the fifth inning with the score 2-2.

Huff, the Orioles' cleanup hitter, came to the plate and pounded a three-run homer to right field, and the Royals never recovered.

Count Huff among those who were surprised.

"It was kind of shocking in the fifth inning," Huff said. "I wasn't really expecting it. Nick's been swinging the bat well this series. That's been happening to him a lot this year.

"In those situations, you really want to come through and bear down and make them pay. And hopefully Nick will start getting some better pitches to hit. "

Markakis, of course, had hit a three-run homer himself in the Orioles' 4-1 victory in the series opener. That was fresh on Hillman's mind as he ordered Meche to lob ball four.

"It was because I think Aubrey Huff is less dangerous at this point in time than Nick Markakis," Hillman said. "Just last night, Nick took a changeup that was up and over the plate and deposited it over the center-field fence.

"Gil was going to his changeup some tonight, and Nick's more dangerous on all pitches, in my opinion, from studying his statistics. I went with what I thought was right, and it didn't work out."

Meche, after getting ahead on Huff 1-2, was trying to bury the next pitch in the dirt and maybe get him to bite.

"I tried to bounce one to Huff," Meche said. "I called Bucky" -- catcher John Buck -- "out and said, 'Let's try to bounce one right here. Go ahead and block it.'

"And I threw it in the exact spot that you don't want it to a lefty. 1-2 count. It's just bad pitching."

The ball, a curveball clocked at 73 mph, came in across the plate and about knee high. Then it disappeared high over the right-field bullpen.

"That's the last thing Gil meant to do, was leave it out over the plate," Hillman said.

Meche, coming off seven shutout innings over Cleveland, could not recapture the curveball he had in that victory.

"I finally saw the shape I wanted, that I'm used to having," he said. "And today it was loopy and not real sharp and they got 'em."

Winning pitcher Steve Trachsel gave up two runs on Alex Gordon's home run in the first inning. His fifth blast came after Teahen's single. Gordon knocked in a third run in the seventh with a single.

"Alex did a good job. He's swinging the bat with more confidence and swinging at better pitches," Hillman said.

After the Royals got within three runs on Buck's RBI single in the eighth, they put two runners on base against O's closer George Sherrill in the ninth.

And up came Gordon, representing the tying run, only to strike out with a home-run swing.

"We had the tying run up there and he unloads," Hillman said. "The pitch is up a little bit, but you want a guy like that taking a shot at it, and he took a shot at it and, unfortunately, didn't come through."

The Royals had other chances, too, notably in the second and sixth innings. Three walks filled the bases in the sixth with one out, but Ross Gload rapped into a double play.

"We had every opportunity in the second and the sixth," Hillman said. "Offensively, it boils down to those two innings. Even if we execute in just one of those two innings, it's a different ballgame."

Instead, it was just the same ballgame -- another loss to the Orioles.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.