BALTIMORE -- Often, it’s the starting pitcher who can make or break a game. Mike Minor was on his way to a win in his team-leading 28th start of the season on Wednesday night after recording his third quality start in five outings.
Instead, he finished with a no-decision as the Royals’ bullpen relinquished a five-run lead in a 9-8 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards, after Baltimore mounted a nine-run bottom of the eighth inning off a combined 68 pitches from relievers Joel Payamps, Josh Staumont and Jake Brentz.
It was the first time the Royals have lost after holding a five-run lead in the eighth inning or later since May 28, 2008, against the Twins.
Minor flashed his stuff over six scoreless innings, allowing five hits while striking out three. He maintained control, utilizing his changeup and slider for key outs -- including the third inning, when he struck out Ryan Mountcastle on a changeup and Austin Hays on a slider to end a bases-loaded threat.
“I got more swings and misses, that's for sure,” Minor said. “I felt like early on it wasn’t as great, but then I made a couple of good pitches, and then later on, we threw it early and they were aggressive, and they swung on it early.”
Up against a fresh Orioles lineup, one that carried few bats Minor had faced before, the veteran relied on Salvador Perez behind the plate -- since the All-Star backstop had caught the first two games of the series and knew what to expect, and how best to game plan in accordance with Minor’s arsenal.
The veteran Minor kept the momentum going for Kansas City, which in turn treated him to an early lead after pulling ahead in the first inning -- a lead the Royals maintained through the seventh by stringing together hits. Perez’s 42nd home run of the year in the seventh inning also helped -- and moved him past Amos Otis for third on the all-time franchise home run list with 194. Andrew Benintendi was the only other Royal to homer, with a three-run blast in the ninth, giving him five RBIs in the loss.
Kansas City’s offense came through. The bats combined for eight runs on 12 hits and two walks.
While Minor maintained the momentum started by the offense, the bullpen fell behind as the O’s picked up where Kansas City left off, allowing those nine runs on six hits, one error and two walks in the eighth inning.
“[Minor] had everything going,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Changeup was real effective, and he did everything he needed to do. He gave us a great opportunity. … And our bullpen’s been extremely good at putting games like that away. Today’s just one of those ones that slipped.”
It marked the first time the Royals allowed nine runs in one inning since Sept. 28, 2018, when the Indians scored 10 in the seventh inning to hand Kansas City a 14-6 loss.
“I think what a lot of Kansas City guys were thinking was, ‘We’re going to get out of it. All right, we’re going to get out of this one,’ Minor said. “And then they scored a couple runs, and a couple runs, and then we couldn’t get out of it. We’d bring another pitcher in and another pitcher in -- it’s just one of those innings where that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t happen very often, especially against the guys that are coming in from our bullpen.”
The eighth inning started with Payamps issuing a walk, then a single and a double. He was lifted after that, having retired all three batters he faced in the seventh on strikeouts.
Then came Staumont, who pitched just one-third of an inning, allowing three runs (two earned) on two hits and one walk. Finally, Brentz closed out the frame, striking out Jahmai Jones to start off strong before yielding three unearned runs, including a two-run homer to Ryan Mountcastle.
“You don’t lose sight of the things that guys did well,” Matheny said. “But we make no question about the fact that it comes down to winning baseball. It comes down to wins and losses, that’s what we do, that’s what we’re paid to do. So to have one inning that gets away from us like that, our worst inning of the year, that is hard to swallow.”