Pitchers' duel turned slugfest: O's hold off Royals' rally

April 21st, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- A pair of early American League Cy Young Award front-runners faced off at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday night -- Baltimore’s and Kansas City’s Cole Ragans. The second meeting of the year between the aces was expected to be a duel.

Instead, a high-scoring matchup ensued, one that went in the Orioles’ favor thanks to their early attack vs. Ragans.

The O’s struck for seven runs in the second inning against Ragans, which was more than enough support for Burnes in a 9-7 victory over the Royals. While Ragans was chased after a career-low 1 2/3 frames, Burnes cruised early and allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings.

Ragans struck out the Baltimore side and worked around a one-out single by Adley Rutschman in a scoreless first. But in the second, the Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate, scoring seven runs on eight hits and a walk in the frame.

“He’s still got good stuff, his stuff still played pretty well tonight, like you saw in the first inning,” Jordan Westburg said of Ragans. “I think we just did a good job of adjusting, and when he did make mistakes, taking advantage of them.”

Ramón Urías, James McCann, Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander each had RBI hits before Westburg knocked a two-run single that ended Ragans’ night. The seven-run outburst marked the second-largest inning of the season for Baltimore, which had a nine-run sixth in its 13-4 win over the Angels on March 30.

It was a much different showing from Ragans’ outing vs. the O's on April 3, when the 26-year-old left-hander held them to one hit over 6 1/3 scoreless innings at Camden Yards. In that game, Burnes allowed two runs in 5 2/3 frames before McCann lifted the O’s to a 4-3 win with a walk-off two-run single in the ninth.

“We made the adjustment from the first game [Ragans] threw. He’s a guy who likes to attack early in the count, and we talked about it before the game and we did a pretty good job attacking him in the second inning,” Santander said. “That’s part of the homework we do as a team. The whole lineup did a really good job with that.”

Burnes’ line on Saturday may have been similar to his first start vs. the Royals, but the 29-year-old right-hander was much more dominant this time. He retired 16 of the first 18 batters he faced, yielding only a pair of singles during that span. Burnes didn’t allow a run until his 98th and final pitch, which Salvador Perez deposited over the left-field wall for a three-run homer.

Over his first five starts for the Orioles, Burnes has a 2.76 ERA. He’s the first pitcher to have an ERA that low through the first five outings of his Baltimore career (minimum 25 innings pitched) since Jason Hammel, who had a 1.97 ERA after five starts in 2012.

Burnes was appreciative of the early seven-run cushion he received from his offense.

“We’ve got a good offense. Whenever [Ragans] came in the zone, it seemed like we didn’t miss,” Burnes said. “You come across teams that are hot like that -- and we’re swinging the bat pretty well to start the year -- so whenever you make a mistake, it seems like the team just doesn’t miss, and we haven’t missed lately.

“This Royals team has been like that, too. They’ve been pretty scrappy early on and swinging the bats well.”

Kansas City showed that again by clawing back into the game with a four-run seventh that cut Baltimore's lead to 8-7. But Santander drove in an insurance run with his career-high third double in the eighth, then Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for his fifth save of the season -- and the 422nd of his career, which tied him with Billy Wagner for seventh on the AL/NL all-time list.

The game ended up being closer than the Orioles would have preferred. But fortunately for them, their early offense was enough to help them withstand the Royals’ rally.

“That was one of our best innings offensively of the year, for me,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Facing a really good starter who’s had a lot of success, a lot of success against us, and I thought we just took what was given to us. A lot of singles, a lot of using the whole field.

“I thought the approach that inning was outstanding, the way we were really staying on the baseball against a really tough starter.”