The Royals' Mitch Maier, left, beats the tag of Orioles… (Associated Press photo…)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
When Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz made a diving play on Luke Scott's bid for a potential tying single to end the game, Juan Samuel took one last look toward the field and then quickly turned away.
He shook hands with a police officer stationed in the dugout and then bumped fists with Cesar Izturis, who had started the ninth inning with a single. Then Samuel, whose brief tenure at the helm of the Orioles included so many other losses like Sunday's 5-4 defeat at Kauffman Stadium before an announced 14,662, quietly walked back to the clubhouse for the final time as manager.
Samuel, who had two stints with Kansas City during his playing career and lived in the area in the offseason for several years, wanted so badly to go out on a good note and told his players just that before Thursday's series opener.
However, he was let down by an Orioles team that doesn't hit with runners in scoring position, gets very few quality starts out of its rotation, blows way too many games late, and doesn't make all the plays defensively.
All but the bullpen meltdown were evident Sunday, though that facet was well-covered the previous two nights, when the Orioles gave up late, go-ahead homers en route to losing three of four to the Royals.
"You wish it would have ended differently with a few more wins here, but we have nothing to be ashamed of," said Samuel, who went 17-34 as manager. The Orioles are 32-73, just 3-14 since the All-Star break, and have lost three straight games.
"These guys played hard. All these games came down to the last at-bat, and that's all you can hope for."
Buck Showalter will be introduced as the new manager at a noon news conference today and then manage his first game with the Orioles on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards. Samuel has been invited to remain on Showalter's staff and return to his previous position as the third base coach.
He is expected to meet with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail this morning, but as of Sunday, he was strongly leaning toward declining the team's offer to stay on the staff and instead heading home to Florida to start his offseason two months early.
"I am very thankful, and I expressed that to Andy many times and I have told him, 'Don't think that the decision I make, don't think it's me being angry,'" Samuel said.
"I just don't want to be in a position where you can be uncomfortable and your players can be uncomfortable at the same time. So you are probably looking at the best decision for the club and the whole organization, really.
"I enjoyed my time here. It was nothing but a good experience. It puts [my name] out there a little more, knowing that I can do this. I appreciate the opportunity that I got here. There's nothing but positives out of this."
Still, there are plenty of things Samuel won't miss that will immediately become Showalter's problems. Orioles starters don't go deep enough into games, and they all too often put the team into a big hole -- as Kevin Millwood did Sunday, when he allowed three first-inning runs on his way to falling to 2-11 on the season. It was the 11th time in his past 12 starts that Millwood, who surrendered five earned runs and 11 hits in 52/3 innings, allowed two or more runs in the first inning.
"It's very frustrating," Millwood said. "I definitely wanted to have a good game and be able to send Juan out on a good note. It just didn't happen, and, you know, that [stinks]. But I think everybody here is behind Juan and wishes him the best."
Samuel also won't miss being asked about the propensity of the Orioles' hitters to come up small in big spots. It was a fitting topic again Sunday after the Orioles went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranded nine runners and hit into three double plays.
The Orioles had the bases loaded in the fourth when well-traveled Royals starter Bruce Chen, a former Oriole, struck out Julio Lugo. Trailing by two runs in the sixth, they had the bases loaded and no outs and managed to score just one on rookie Josh Bell's double-play ball.
Then, in a one-run game in the ninth inning, a throwing error by third baseman Wilson Betemit left the Orioles with runners on first and second and no outs. Nick Markakis promptly swung at Joakim Soria's first pitch and hit a come-backer to the All-Star closer, who turned it into a double play.
Two batters later, Scott grounded out to Getz, who made a diving play while ranging to his left.
"It's tough, but we busted our butts. We gave him what we got," Markakis said. "We just came up short. That's baseball."
Or perhaps more fittingly, that has been Orioles baseball far too often. The Orioles have gone 5-for-48 (.104) with runners in scoring position the past five games and 19-for-136 (.140) the past 17.
"We've been seeing these games go the other way, where we've had plenty of opportunities," Samuel said. "It just shows you how tough this year has been. Hopefully, it can be corrected."
That will be Showalter's responsibility now.
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