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KC@BAL: Hardy hammers his 10th homer of the season

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have gotten more than their fair share of lucky breaks and bounces this season, but couldn't get a favorable roll on Saturday.

A pivotal seventh-inning roller stubbornly hugged the third-base line to give the Royals just enough opportunity to get back in the game, which they did as Eric Hosmer's go-ahead single in the eighth dealt the O's a 4-3 loss to even the series at Camden Yards.

The crowd of 26,714 watched Nick Johnson's blast -- a potential lead-changing two-run homer in the eighth -- miss the right-field foul pole by several feet, ricocheting off the corner before dropping down below and taking the O's hopes with it.

"Just a fine line there," O's manager Buck Showlater said. "Nicky just missed a home run by a foot or two. The swinging bunt that ended up being two [bases] and a couple flares over there to left, and a couple ground balls that found holes. Even Nick Markakis' last ball, he hit it right on the button and [first baseman Hosmer] made a great play on it.

"They were due for some things to go their way."

And perhaps the Orioles -- who are expected to announce a six-year, $85.5 million extension for center fielder Adam Jones on Sunday -- already had enough good fortune for one day. Off to its best start in seven years, Baltimore is 29-18 on the season and lost for just the second time in 24 games when getting a quality start, this one from lefty Wei-Yin Chen.

Also out of the ordinary was a surprisingly stout bullpen, which has been the anchor during the team's hot start, surrendering runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

Relievers Darren O'Day and Pedro Strop allowed the tying and go-ahead runs late. Strop, who had made 13 consecutive scoreless appearances, yielded an eighth-inning run while O'Day -- who followed Chen -- allowed the tying run in a strange inning that started with Hosmer's one-out double, a slow roller that third baseman Wilson Betemit watched and slowly backed up on, hoping it would turn foul.

"I can do nothing about it," Betemit said. "It stayed on the line. I had to wait, fair or foul, and it stayed inside. I didn't have time to get the ball to second to get the out."

A hustling Hosmer made it to second base without a throw, and he came home on Humberto Quintero's double to knot it at 3.

"That was one [heck] of a bunt," O'Day said of the swinging dribbler. "I was shocked to see the ball stay fair. First of all, he's a good runner. It's a smart play for sure. It's a lesson learned. Next time, I'll get around to the other side of the ball and keep an eye on the runner, and hopefully keep him to first base.

"I can honestly say I've never had that play before in my 20 years of playing baseball, and now I know for the next 20."

O'Day picked up a pair of strikeouts to end the inning before handing the ball to Strop, who allowed a run for the first time since April 22, a span of 14 2/3 innings. Strop allowed three hits and walk, with Hosmer again coming through with the go-ahead RBI.

"This team, this is a good team right now," Hosmer said of the first-place Orioles who entered the day with the best record in the American League. "They're tough to beat and they've got this place rocking right now. So once they get any kind of momentum going, they've got a lot of momentum on their back with this home crowd."

Down a run and facing their final three outs, Robert Andino opened the bottom of the ninth with a single off Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, which was erased by Xavier Avery's fielder's choice.

J.J. Hardy -- who homered early in the game -- got the green-light to swing on 3-0, but grounded out as well, and the game ended on Markakis' ball to Hosmer.

"J.J.'s really good in that situation," Showalter said of the decision to let Hardy swing. "He's a selective guy and you trust him. That was pretty easy. He would have been sitting 3-1 if you hadn't. [He] just didn't quite get the ball in through the hole."

Chris Davis' one-out homer in the second inning got the Orioles on the board and Hardy followed one frame later to give the O's an early two-run lead off Royals starter Felipe Paulino. Baltimore, which has a Major League-leading 72 homers, is the only team in baseball with six different players who have seven or more home runs.

Chen turned in his fifth quality start of the year -- third in his last four outings -- going six innings and allowing two runs in the no-decision. In his first nine Major League starts, Chen -- quietly signed to a three-year deal in the offseason -- is 4-1 with a 3.31 ERA. Four of his five quality starts have been at home where he's 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA.

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