The pressure was on Danny Duffy to start making his case for the postseason rotation following a solid start from Kris Medlen on Monday.
Of Duffy's previous 19 starts, he completed seven or more innings just three times and allowed three or more runs in nine of those starts despite rarely making it deep in ball games. With poor walk rates and mediocre strikeout rates, there is not a way to chalk up his struggles to bad luck either.
While Duffy failed to finish the sixth inning tonight, he did not exactly struggle. Duffy allowed two runs in a dicey fourth inning that saw him induce an Adam Jones pop out and get Chris Davis swinging only to suddenly become unable to record the third out.
First he walked Matt Wieters on five pitches. Then Steve "Don't Call Me Steven" Pearce ripped a first-pitch ground ball single to left, moving Wieters to third as he was running on contact. Jonathan Schoop followed with a second straight ground-ball single through the left side of the infield, driving in Wieters. Caleb Joseph followed with a liner up the middle to centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, plating Pearce.
Duffy finally got Paul Janish to ground out to first, but the Orioles had plated two runs.
Fortunately for Duffy, the Kansas City offense had already notched three runs against Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez.
After a quiet first inning, Kendrys Morales led off the second with a BOMB to the fountains in deep right field. Mike Moustakas followed with a double, but the unholy triumvirate of Salvador Perez, Alex Rios, and Omar Infante did as was prophesied and recorded three quick outs without moving Moustakas up even one station.
Fortunately, the third inning was a better inning for the Royals. Alcides Escobar led off with a line-out to center, but Ben Zobrist worked an eight-pitch walk with one out. Lorenzo Cain followed with a single, putting runners at first and third in what was then still a 1 - 0 game.
Eric Hosmer ripped a grounder to Paul Janish--who fielded the grounder in front of second base--and for a moment, it looked as though Cain was going to get tagged out at the front end of a double play. Always paying attention, Cain stopped and reversed course toward first. Rather than try for the nearest out by tagging Cain but risking Hosmer reaching safely, Janish took the sure out at first with the hope that the tag at second on the turn could still be applied.
Unfortunately for the Orioles and Janish, Cain ended up evading the tag on the throw back to second. Cain's reversal of course bought the crucial time to allow Zobrist to cross home safely for the second run of the game (the elimination of the force at second on the front end of the prospective double play meant Zobrist's run would have counted), and his tag evasion kept the inning alive.
This would be crucial.
Kendrys Morales followed with a walk, and Mike Moustakas singled in Cain to put the Royals up 3 - 0.
After the Orioles' two aforementioned runs in the fourth, neither team managed another run.
Gonzalez got pulled after recording just one out in the fifth with a final line of: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 1 K. Baltimore relievers T.J. McFarland, Mychal Givens, Brian Matusz, and Darren O'Day walked three Royals but allowed no hits in their 3.2 innings pitched.
Duffy got a little deeper than his Oriole counterpart, completing 5.2 innings of work. He struck out five, walked two, hit another, and allowed a pair of runs on 91 pitches. He was pulled after putting runners on the corners with two outs in the sixth.
Luke Hochevar cleaned up Duffy's mess but gave up a two-out double to Gerardo Parra in the seventh and handed the ball over to Kelvin Herrera. Herrera and Wade Davis combined to record the last seven outs, striking out four along the way.
Offensively, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Omar Infante all went hitless, though Hosmer was credited with driving in the run that Cain created with his elusiveness on the basepaths. Ben Zobrist, Kendrys Morales, and Mike Moustakas each reached three times, walking a combined five times. In the Small Wonders Department: Alcides Escobar saw enough pitches in a plate appearance to draw a walk, just his fifth walk since July 19.
After the two precedent games in which the Kansas City's offense exploded for 16 total runs, tonight's affair seemed more appropriate for the Royals. The runs did not come as easily, but the result was the same as 76 other times this season. The Royals won.
This win brings their record to an impressive 77-48. For those keeping track at home, that marks the first time that the Royals have been 29 games over .500 since they went 18-11. They currently enjoy a seven-game advantage over the Toronto Blue Jays for home field throughout the American League playoffs.