Forgotten contributors rally KC in 11th
Buck's clutch go-ahead knock, 'pen's work sink O's
BALTIMORE -- The Royals' bullpen, which many fans just tried to forget, and John Buck, their almost-forgotten catcher, jumped into everyone's consciousness on Tuesday night.
Buck drilled the game-winning double and the bullpen forged five scoreless innings as the Royals knocked off the Baltimore Orioles in 11 innings, 4-3, at Camden Yards. The victory was the Royals' third in four games.
"I tell you, that's called two in a row," manager Trey Hillman said. "I like it."
What's not to like? There were good things happening all over the place for the Royals.
Take the last inning, for example. Mark Teahen led off with a feeble tap and the ball dribbled down the first-base line. The ball rolled to a stop in fair ground just an inch or so from the chalk.
"That's a grounds-crew single," Hillman said. "And we'll take it. We'll take a little luck."
Teahen danced gracefully past the ball.
"Obviously you can't step on it because you'd be out," Teahen said. "I really didn't think it'd stay fair. It's a nice bonus that it did and it was nice that Buck picked us up."
A pickup was needed because Baltimore reliever Danys Baez got two outs, interrupted only by Teahen's steal of second base. This was Buck's first at-bat because he didn't enter the game until the ninth inning. He's taken a back seat to regular catcher Miguel Olivo and lately to Brayan Pena, who started four of the past six games.
Rusty? Buck swung at and missed the first pitch, a high fastball. He oiled up for the second pitch.
"The first one was high, and I just told myself, 'Zone it down just a hair,'" Buck said. "I just missed it because it was high. He threw it down a little bit and I got good wood on it."
He sure did, a sizzling line drive into right field. Teahen scored with ease and when the throw went past the plate, Buck churned to third base. He was still there when Alex Gordon struck out but that one run was enough.
Closer Joakim Soria came on and, after a leadoff flare single by Matt Wieters, quickly got three outs for his 17th save. For the second straight night, he capped off a shutout effort by the bullpen.
That was a huge accomplishment for the much-maligned relief corps, which had struggled mightily in the club's recent slide.
"It's been nice to get the ball to Soria, the way it should be with a lead," starter Brian Bannister said. "[Robinson] Tejeda did a great job yesterday and the bullpen did a great job tonight. That transition is huge."
After Bannister left in the sixth, trailing, 3-2, John Bale worked two-thirds of an inning but there were runners at the corners. Roman Colon bailed him out, then added another scoreless inning. Jamey Wright followed with two perfect innings -- the ninth and 10th -- to set the table for Soria.
That's a grand total of nine shutout innings by the bullpen in the two victories in Baltimore.
"Back to normal," Buck said.
Or at least back to the bullpen upon which the Royals doted when the season began so successfully.
"That's what hurt so much, because we know how really good they are down there," Buck said. "Even though they didn't have a good span there, I still believe they're the strength of our team."
The bullpen's recent travail obviously worked on the relievers' psyche.
"I'd go to every single fan and apologize if I could," Wright said. "But it is what it is, and it's time for us to step it up and get better. The past two nights have been a really good start."
The Royals' happy ending was preceded by spirited early scrapping.
Billy Butler, after his 5-for-5 night in Monday's series opener, made it six hits in a row in the first inning. This time, after Willie Bloomquist's single, Butler lined a 396-foot home run to center field off Jason Berken. It was Butler's 11th homer this season and gave him the team lead with 47 RBIs.
Bannister also had a rocky beginning. Brian Roberts led off the Orioles' first with an infield single and Adam Jones followed with a two-run homer into the left-field seats to knot the game at 2.
The Orioles went ahead, 3-2, in the sixth when Wieters' two-out, broken-bat liner sailed just over second baseman Alberto Callaspo's glove and scored Nolan Reimold. That was Bannister's last inning.
Bloomquist pulled the Royals even at 3 with a home run on the second pitch thrown by reliever Jim Johnson in the eighth. The drive to left-center field was Bloomquist's third homer this season, matching his total for the previous four seasons with Seattle.
Before the inning began, Bloomquist mentioned to hitting coach Kevin Seitzer that he'd probably take one strike before attacking Johnson.
"And he said, 'No, let it go. Look for a pitch up and let it go,'" Bloomquist said. "That was good to hear."
He took a called ball, then jumped on the first strike that Johnson unleashed. The score was tied and victory came three innings later.
"I think these guys still have a lot of pride," Hillman said. "We know where we're at and we know how many games we've got left. It's not too late to start a positive streak."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.