Sunday, May 11, 2008

O's Can't Back Burres in Loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY -- The numbers appeared crystal clear on the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard. They always do on the giant HD screen.

But the score still looked like a mistake: Royals 4, Orioles 0.

One of the more confounding streaks in baseball came to an end on Sunday as Baltimore finally lost to Kansas City. It had been a while. The O's had won 12 in a row against the Royals until Sunday afternoon -- when they ran into someone too good to keep this streak alive.

Brian Bannister did what rain, wind and a hit that came within a foot of being a home run couldn't do: He beat the Orioles.

"He had everything," catcher Guillermo Quiroz said. "Curve balls, cutters, sliders, fastball, four-seamers and two-seamers. He was just locating everything."

Bannister went eight innings, and all the O's could manage was a season-low two hits. They knew it would be tough coming in. Bannister had struggled recently, giving up 20 hits and 12 earned runs in his last two starts, but he also started the season 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA.

That's the Bannister Baltimore saw on Sunday.

"I'm a competitor," Bannister said. "I hate losing, and it was just important that I proved myself by pitching the way I pitch."

It was a discouraging sign for Baltimore's bats. The hitters had finally heated up this series after struggling for an entire month. They had hit a three-run home run in each of the first three games of the series. Against Bannister, they never even put more than one runner on base at a time.

The Royals had no trouble getting baserunners. Brian Burres simply couldn't match Bannister's dominance. Mark Teahen drove in Jose Guillen in the second, giving Kansas City an early 1-0 lead. A Miguel Olivo single loaded the bases with no outs, but Burres prevented further damage by inducing two infield groundouts and pop fly.

He got out of that jam, but the weak Kansas City offense capitalized later. Burres was removed in the seventh after allowing Joey Gathright and David DeJesus to get on base, and the two later scored. Burres allowed four runs in six innings and struck out only one batter, a season low.

"Burres was walking a tight rope," manager Dave Trembley said. "He made some big pitches with guys on base, but he pitched up too much."

Sunday marked the final day of a grueling 10-game road trip for the Orioles, and a stretch where they played 17-of-20 games away from home. Oh, and they didn't have a day off in 19 days.

It wasn't easy.

Rain delayed multiple games. One got postponed in the 11th inning and was moved to a later date. Another one got cancelled and turned into a doubleheader. And, of course, the O's faced some nearly unhittable pitchers. Bannister was just the most recent one. The Rays' Andy Sonnanstine and White Sox's Jose Contreras also gave dominating performances on the mound.

"The road trip was tough," first baseman Kevin Millar said, "but that's part of baseball. It's a long season. Boys have their heads high and we're playing good."

Baltimore started 11-9 at the beginning of the long, strange trip and is now 19-19. The Birds can't complain about a .500 record considering where they were on Thursday. Baltimore was riding a five-game losing streak before Daniel Cabrera silenced KC's bats, and the offense came alive and stayed alive for three straight victories in which it produced 17 runs.

Questions still remain, though. This solid finish to the road trip came against the Royals, a team that's lost 19-of-28 games after starting the season 6-2. Add in that whole Orioles dominance over Kansas City, and it's easy to see why the improved hitting and starting pitching seen in this series could be interpreted as a fluke.

Baltimore should find out if its recent play is legit soon enough. After getting Monday off, the O's have a two-game set with the American East-leading Red Sox.

"We were trying to leave the road trip and go home at .500," Quiroz said. "We're gonna get some rest. I'm pretty sure everybody's gonna have the right mind on Tuesday."


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