Orioles throw off Royals, 3-2

After 2-run first, Lopez, 'pen retire 24 hitters

O's win first series since May

Young Greinke baffles O's for six before 3-run 7th

July 02, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The road back to respectability looks daunting for the Orioles, and they knew it had to start in this four-game series against the lowly Kansas City Royals.

It had been more than a month since the Orioles won a series, more than a month since they won back-to-back games, and by last night, the team was getting desperate to build some positive momentum.

This was their chance, and the main person standing in their way of those two accomplishments was the youngest player in the big leagues. Zack Greinke, 20, almost spoiled their trip by pitching well beyond his years.

Greinke stymied the Orioles for six innings, but they scored three runs in the seventh to take the lead and held on for a 3-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

Rodrigo Lopez (6-4) gave up two runs in the first inning, but he and three relievers combined to retire the final 24 hitters they faced. In other words, the Royals didn't get a runner to reach base after the first inning.

But it looked like that effort would go for naught until Rafael Palmeiro hit his 11th homer of the season to start the seventh inning against Greinke (1-5).

"We've got a pretty good offense," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "And I think once Raffy hit that home run it kind of propelled the guys in the dugout."

Jerry Hairston tied the score with a double down the left-field line, and -- who else? -- David Newhan gave the Orioles the lead with a one-out, run-scoring single off Royals reliever Shawn Camp.

The Orioles left town after taking three of four in the series and flew to Philadelphia, where they'll begin a three-game series starting tonight.

Throw out their one-game, make-up victory at Boston on May 31, and the Orioles hadn't won a series since May 28-30 at Detroit.

That Memorial Day victory at Boston, which stretched their winning streak to four games, also marked the last time they had won back-to-back games.

Kansas City owns the American League's worst record, at 29-47, and after blowing a seven-run lead in Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Orioles (33-42) were in serious need of a lift.

"I don't know how critical it was, but you always want to come in and win a series, no matter where you go," Mazzilli said. "I thought we were playing pretty well. You come off that game Sunday, and you've got a little sour taste in your mouth, and the guys come back and win three out of four. That shows you something that's pretty impressive."

Lopez needed just 68 pitches to finish six innings, but with a 3-2 lead, Mazzilli went to his bullpen.

B.J. Ryan retired four batters, Jason Grimsley retired the final two in the eighth inning, and Jorge Julio got through the ninth to earn his 11th save.

"I felt pretty good," Lopez said. "I'm not saying what can happen if I stay in the game, but it seems like they made the right decision."

For the Royals, it was another tough loss, but the crowd gave Greinke a standing ovation when he left the game.

Kansas City took Greinke with the sixth overall pick in the 2002 draft, two spots after the Orioles drafted Adam Loewen. Both were high school pitchers, and while Loewen dallied for a year in junior college before signing his contract, Greinke took flight.

On May 22, he became the third-youngest pitcher in Royals history to start a game (only Bret Saberhagen and Mark Littell were younger). He notched just one win in his first seven starts, going 1-4 with a 3.48 ERA, but his potential was obvious.

Scouts are raving about Greinke's ability to locate five distinct pitches -- a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, and a super slow curveball. He hit 93 mph on the radar gun with his fastball last night, and he also hit 61 mph with the super slow curve.

Melvin Mora swung right through a 63 mph curve to end the fourth inning, a look of disbelief on his face. And even after seeing it before, he was still way out on his front foot when he flied out to left against the 61-mph curve to end the sixth.

The Orioles were having such a hard time getting anything going, they started resorting to drastic measures. With one out in the fourth, Miguel Tejada recorded his first bunt single of the season, extending his hitting streak to 16 games.

But Palmeiro turned things around with a bigger swing in the seventh, and before long, Greinke came unglued. Javy Lopez doubled, Hairston doubled, and Greinke hit Luis Matos with a pitch before Robert Machado reached on an infield single.

Royals manager Tony Pena replaced Greinke with Camp, and Newhan hit a 1-0 pitch to the opposite field for the game-winner. Newhan has now hit in all 13 games since getting his release from the Texas Rangers and signing with the Orioles.

"That kid [Newhan] made a pretty good adjustment," Mazzilli said. "It was a good pitch and he didn't try to do too much with it."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Site: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Matt Riley (1-3, 7.29) vs. Phillies' Brett Myers (5-5, 4.93)

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