The top spot in the American League Central is now in a virtual three-way knot between the Detroit Tigers (17-16), Royals and Minnesota Twins (both 18-17). Percentage-wise, the latter two clubs are .001 behind the Tigers.
Royals starter Gil Meche lasted just 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs as he took his fourth loss. His early departure was caused by his erratic control, not a flare-up of his cranky back.
"I wasn't pitching with any pain or anything, I'm just not making good pitches," Meche said. "Literally, from the first pitch of the game, I was just everywhere. You make mistakes when you do that. Not getting ahead of the hitters isn't going to help you."
He gave up a solo home run to Aubrey Huff in the fourth inning, the first homer he's allowed this season, but really foundered in the fifth. He allowed a walk followed by three hits, including Cesar Izturis' two-run triple and Nick Markakis' RBI double. That came on Meche's 87th pitch -- only 50 were strikes -- and ended his outing.
"The biggest thing for me is he's got to work ahead in the count," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
This was the fourth straight tough outing for Meche, though he won one of them. In those games, he's surrendered 16 runs in 19 2/3 innings.
"It's a matter of my body just starting to feel fatigued. The velocity might still be there. It's just a matter of I'm not really pitching with my body. It's more my arm as the game goes along," Meche said. "And that's why you see the control kind of go out the door. It's frustrating. To me, it's unacceptable. I've got to figure it out pretty soon."
The Royals need to figure out how to win another game pretty soon. At least they summoned up 11 hits and five runs, more in each category than they'd managed in any of the previous five losses.
"I did like what I saw offensively tonight," Hillman said. "If we get a hop here or a hop there offensively, it could've been a different story."
The Royals got three RBIs from Billy Butler, who hammered his third homer and had a two-run single with the bases loaded. David DeJesus, who was 1-for-18 on the winless tour of California, had two doubles. Buck and Alberto Callaspo also had two hits each.
Butler was elevated to the No. 3 spot in an effort to invigorate the lineup, and that worked well. He's been a hot hitter at Kauffman this season, batting .389 (21-for-54) at home.
"I had multiple opportunities. I had two opportunities where I didn't get anybody in. It's just one of those things. We're battling and we're coming up short," Butler said. "It's hard to go through this. We're continuing to battle, but it's just hard to go through."
Butler blamed himself for missing a sharp grounder by Izturis, a single that extended the Orioles' sixth inning and led to three runs against reliever Robinson Tejeda, two on Markakis' double.
"I had a chance to help us out defensively and I couldn't get it done. It's a tough play, but I feel like I've got to make that play," Butler said.
The Royals scored twice in the third against right-hander Jeremy Guthrie but it could have been a bigger inning. Buck, who had singled, stopped when Mike Aviles' line drive appeared in danger of being caught in right field. The ball dropped in front of Markakis who threw to force Buck at second. Then Coco Crisp tripled and DeJesus doubled, each driving in a run.
But nothing much went right for the Royals, especially for Meche.
"Four or five starts in a row, it's been pretty bad," he said. "I've just got to figure it out as soon as I can."