Huff, Trachsel give O's win again in KC
DH slugs three-run homer; struggling starter holds off Royals
KANSAS CITY -- Again, the Orioles got the clutch hit. Again, they got an overachieving performance from a starter.
What's going on here?
Perhaps Baltimore is finally shaking loose from its May funk. The O's won their second game in a row Friday night, 7-4, against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
The clutch hit came courtesy of Aubrey Huff, whose three-run home run in the fifth inning off Royals starter Gil Meche broke a 2-2 tie and provided the difference in the game.
It all happened because of a questionable decision. With two outs in the inning and Freddie Bynum on second base, Royals manager Trey Hillman chose to intentionally walk Nick Markakis. The Orioles outfielder had burned the Royals on Thursday with a three-run home run, which must've been enough to persuade Hillman.
Huff was shocked, but ready.
"In those situations, you really want to come through and bear down and make them pay," Huff said. "And hopefully, Nick will start getting some better pitches to hit."
Kansas City had an opportunity to cut into the 5-2 lead in the sixth. Three walks loaded the bases for the Royals with one out, but reliever Matt Albers forced Ross Gload into an inning-ending double play.
Baltimore added two more runs in the seventh when Markakis scored on a wild pitch, and Kevin Millar singled, driving in Huff. It was the second game in a row someone hit a three-run homer for the Orioles, after the team had been unable to hit one the entire season.
Melvin Mora also hit a two-run blast in the third.
The Birds' meager offense is suddenly starting to break out. They've scored 16 runs in the past three games after scoring the same amount in the seven previous games.
"Before we came on this road trip, I said I thought we'd start to hit as the weather would get a little better," manager Dave Trembley said. "We'd get into more of a routine. Those guys have been around the block more times than not."
The pitching was solid again, too, as starter Steve Trachsel snapped a string of bad outings. It didn't look like he'd do it at first.
To no one's surprise, Trachsel put his team in an early hole when Alex Gordon hit a two-run homer off him in the first inning. That had been Trachsel's modus operandi lately: give up runs early and put the O's in position to lose. Baltimore had lost five of the six games Trachsel started this year.
But this time, Trachsel didn't unravel. He responded with one of his best outings of the season.
Trachsel went 5 1/3 innings, allowing just the first-inning runs off Gordon's homer. Primarily using his fastball, he threw a first-pitch strike to 15 of 22 batters, something that Trembley had wanted him to do.
A big step for Trachsel came in the second. After surrendering a double to John Buck, he had to pitch with runners on second and third and one out. He got Alberto Callaspo to ground out and David DeJesus to pop out. After that, Trachsel allowed just one hit and one walk until he was removed in the sixth.
"The last thing you want to do is say, 'Here we go again,'" Trachsel said. "You have to block out all those negative thoughts."
The outing couldn't have come at a better time for him. Before the game, Trembley said that a pitcher could lose his starting spot because he was thinking of switching to a four-man rotation. Trachsel seemed like the obvious choice until Friday night's start. It could still happen, but he at least proved he could give a quality outing.
"It's much easier for me to go in there and talk to [pitching coach Rick] Kranitz about what we're going to do the next time if he hadn't pitched so well," Trembley said.
The Royals scored a run in the seventh and eighth innings, but it didn't matter. George Sherrill worked a scoreless, but shaky ninth for his 12th save.
Baltimore (18-18) has won 11 straight against Kansas City (15-20) and has two more games left in the four-game series. The victory puts the Birds back at .500, three days after falling below the mark for the first time this season after a loss in Oakland.
And if the timely hits and solid starts keep coming, the Orioles might stay at .500 or better for a while longer.
"They're just getting started, really," Trembley said. "They've only played about 40 games."
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.