Twice, the Kansas City Royals seemingly had a runner picked off first base. Both times, a sure out turned into a stolen base.
The Royals' failure to execute this fundamental play was a key factor in their 8-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.
With Baltimore nursing a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, Xavier Avery drew a leadoff walk and broke for second as Royals starter Bruce Chen threw to first. Avery reached second before the throw from first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Robert Andino followed with a perfectly placed bunt to put runners on the corners, and then it happened again. This time it was Andino who took off for second as Chen threw to first. Andino avoided the tag, and the Orioles capitalized on the gifts. J.J. Hardy hit a two-run double, Nick Markakis doubled in a run, Adam Jones hit an RBI single and Chris Davis topped it off with a run-scoring single.
"They really took advantage of their opportunities in that fifth inning," Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "Missing those two tags obviously hurt."
Kansas City manager Ned Yost added, "On the first one, he just outran it. He got such a good jump that the throw had to be about perfect. On the second one, we had an opportunity. We just didn't play well tonight."
Francouer had three hits for the Royals, who have lost three straight. Francouer is 11 for 21 in his last five games.
Chen (3-5) gave up six runs and seven hits in four-plus innings. The left-hander had won each of his previous three starts.
Asked about the ill-fated pickoff throws, Chen said, "I can't do anything about it. Yes, it would have been huge to get those two outs. I have to keep guys off base."
The crowd of 28,954 included nearly 11,000 walk-up fans, a Camden Yards record. The attendance was a testament to the excitement the first-place Orioles have generated after a run of 14 straight losing seasons.
"Outstanding crowd tonight," Orioles starter Jason Hammel said. "If they are backing us, we are going to feel even better about ourselves. It's been fun to see the stands filling up now. We want to just continue to play good baseball for them."
Part of the buzz centered around Jones, who appears to be closing in on a contract extension. Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning and stretched his career-high hitting streak to 16 games with an RBI single in a five-run fifth.
Hammel threw six shutout innings and Davis homered and drove in three runs for the Orioles, now 28-1 when hitting a home run. Davis hit Baltimore's league-leading 70th homer of the season in the seventh inning with a man on to make it 8-0.
Hammel (6-1) allowed five hits, walked one and struck out seven. Obtained in an offseason trade with Colorado, Hammel is one big reason why Baltimore (29-17) owns the best record in the AL.
"I think he's throwing harder than I've seen in the past," KC's Billy Butler said. "He was hitting 94-95 consistently and touched 96 a few times. He's throwing well."
Baltimore loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but got only one run, on a sacrifice fly by Jones.
The Royals missed a chance to draw even in the second. With one out and Francoeur on third, the Orioles moved the infield in and got the desired result — a grounder to second baseman Andino, who threw out Francoeur at the plate.
In the fourth, a double by Francoeur put runners at second and third with one out. Hammel then struck out Alex Gordon and Brayan Pena.
One inning later, the Royals again had runners at second and third with one out. Hammel struck out Hosmer before Butler hit a rising liner to shortstop that Hardy leaped to grab.
NOTES: The Orioles designated OF Bill Hall for assignment, recalled Pomeranz and C Ronny Paulino from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned C Luis Exposito to the same minor league club. ... KC RHP Blake Wood underwent successful elbow ligament replacement surgery Thursday. LHP Danny Duffy is due to have Tommy John surgery next Thursday, Yost said. ... Orioles 3B Mark Reynolds and LF Endy Chavez, who are both sidelined with left oblique injuries, are slated to begin their minor league rehabilitation assignments with Double-A Bowie on Saturday.