KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals took some big swings in their 15-2 victory over the Orioles yesterday, but did they take a cheap shot at Bill Ripken after the game was out of hand?
There were a few angry Orioles who felt that Royals starting pitcher Hipolito Pichardo threw at Ripken's head after third baseman Leo Gomez hit a meaningless home run in the fifth inning. Ripken wasn't hit, but a fastball behind the head in a double-digit blowout is not considered kosher.
"I call that bush," said one Orioles pitcher.
The club has adopted manager Johnny Oates' low-key policy on such sensitive matters, so no one wanted to stir it up publicly or be quoted on the record. But the players were upset that Pichardo got a free shot at Ripken, but Orioles reliever Pat Clements was ejected for hitting Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane later in the game.
Plate umpire John Shulock calmed down an angry Macfarlane and then threw Clements out of the game, leaving some Orioles players to wonder about the fairness of a rule that allows one pitcher to throw at a batter and calls for the ejection of anyone who retaliates.
There apparently was no warning given after Pichardo's alleged purpose pitch, but the umpire has discretionary power to decide whether any pitch was thrown intentionally at a batter. Shulock obviously felt that Clements did intend to plunk Macfarlane and ruled accordingly.
"It looked like he got talked into it," said another Oriole, referring to the brief conversation between Macfarlane and Shulock before the ejection.
It was something of a tempest in a teapot. The Orioles had just suffered a 13-run defeat that equaled the seventh worst in the history of the club. They also had missed another chance to pick up ground on the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who extended their American League East division lead to three games with a doubleheader split in Cleveland.
The Royals piled up 17 hits on four Orioles pitchers, blowing the game open with a 14-run, middle-inning barrage that dispatched starter Alan Mills and forced Oates deep into his bullpen.
Mills gave up six runs in 3 1/3 innings to suffer his first defeat as an Orioles starter; left-hander Mike Flanagan came on to give up five earned runs in one-third of an inning, and Clements gave up three runs before being ejected. All of which left Oates to use Todd Frohwirth for the final four innings.
"It was just a bad day at Black Rock for everybody, it seems like," said Flanagan, who allowed six of the seven batters he faced to reach base.
The Royals batted around to score eight times in the fourth inning and assure that the Orioles would return to Baltimore with a losing record (3-4) on a trip that started out with such promise.
They won two of the first three games in Toronto to pull within a game of the first-place Blue Jays, but lost three of the last four games of the trip to take a couple of steps backward.
Mills could not duplicate the performance that rescued the Orioles at SkyDome. He turned in a big performance after the Orioles lost the series opener against the Blue Jays but was not able to carry the club back after Saturday night's come-from-ahead loss in the second game at Royals Stadium.
"Not much happened for the guys in the gray uniforms today," Oates said.
Oates dismissed the notion that the club might have been down after the discouraging loss Saturday night, though the Orioles never made much of an offensive statement against Pichardo.
"Last night had no bearing on today's game for the 670th time this year," he said, sarcastically. "Not in my mind."
Flanagan had been on the rebound after a horrible trip through Detroit and Cleveland sent his ERA skyrocketing into double figures. He had cut it almost in half over the past two months, but yesterday's performance sent it back up to 7.71. Take away the five runs scored by the Royals and the eight runs he gave up to the Detroit Tigers June 13 and Flangan's ERA is a more respectable 4.03.
That June 13 game at Tiger Stadium -- a 15-1 loss -- was the only defeat in the past five years that was more lopsided than yesterday's 13-run loss.
The six-run performance by Mills jacked up his ERA considerably, but it still is a solid 2.45. If anyone is entitled to an off day, it might be the 25-year-old right-hander, who has been one of the surprise pitchers in the American League this year.
CMills said afterward that he didn't feel particularly strong at the outset, but he refused to use that as an excuse for his lackluster performance.
"The first two innings, when they didn't score, it still seemed like I was working too hard to get them out," he said. "That's the way it seemed to me. I've gone out there and felt that way before. The way you feel doesn't really dictate how you pitch.
"If you give up six runs in 3 1/3 innings, you're not going to give your team a chance to win. That's what's disappointing."