KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals might have found a surefire way to not lose: Just have your starter throw a near-perfect game.
Left-hander Danny Duffy pitched his most dominant game in the big leagues, tossing 6 2/3 innings of perfect baseball before surrendering a clean ground-ball single up the middle to Baltimore’s Adam Jones. The Royals went on to win, 1-0, over the Orioles.
"I knew it was a hit when he hit it," Duffy said. "He hit it hard. We have the best shortstop in baseball in my opinion, but that was a hit all the way."
Duffy got Chris Davis to pop out, and then entered the eighth inning, which was a milestone in his career. In 86 minor-league starts and 34 big-league starts, Duffy had never pitched in the eighth inning. He did Saturday night, at least for one hitter when he gave up a single to Nelson Cruz.
"It was cool," Duffy said of seeing the eighth inning.
Duffy wound up with seven innings pitched, giving up two hits and no walks and striking out two.
Asked what his secret was on this night, Duffy said, "Using my defense. We’ve got a great defense and it’s just pretty cool to be a part of this team."
Duffy, who took over a slot in the rotation for the injured Bruce Chen, likely has sealed up that slot now.
"This is the ceiling for Danny," said designated hitter Billy Butler, who drove in the game’s only run with a first-inning single.
"He can do this a lot. That’s how good he is."
Manager Ned Yost summed up Duffy’s performance: "That was some kind of special."
— The Billy at-bat. As horrible as the Royals’ offense has been lately, fans were grateful that Butler came through with a huge two-out RBI in the first inning. Nori Aoki had singled but was still at first when Butler came up. Aoki stole second — the play of the game, really — and then Butler smashed a single through the middle.
"You never know when that one run might be all you need," Butler said. "Two-out hits are hard. They’re special. They get you going."
— That’s why Gordon has Gold Gloves. The defensive play of the night was turned in by left fielder Alex Gordon when Duffy still had his perfect game intact through six. Nick Markakis led off the seventh with a slicing liner down the left-field line and Gordon raced over before making a head-first dive to catch the ball. Spectacular.
"With Gordo, it’s almost become routine," Duffy said. "You look at the ball slicing away and you go, ‘Oh yeah. He’s got that.’"
— The bullpen does it again. Hey, if the bullpen had happened to melt down, Royals fans might not be celebrating the great Duffy start. But Wade Davis came in in the eighth and with the tying run on first, mowed down the O’s, striking out two of them. Greg Holland pitched himself into a jam by walking two hitters in the ninth and allowing a single. But with runners on first and third and one out, Holland struck out Jones. Then with the bases loaded and two out, Holland struck out Cruz to end the game.
The strikeout of Jones created the biggest stir. Jones had appeared to strike out swinging earlier in the at-bat, but home plate umpire Chris Segal ruled that Jones foul-tipped the ball. Yost was furious — so much so that he got tossed for the first time since 2012.
"That could have been a game-changer," Yost said. "I could see from the dugout it wasn’t a foul tip."
— Today’s situational hitting meltdown. The Royals had a chance to maybe get another run in the second when Lorenzo Cain led off with a walk and stole second. But Mike Moustakas, after a long battle with Bud Norris, flied out harmlessly to left and didn’t get Cain to third.
— Another base-running boo-boo. Cain didn’t help matters when Johnny Giavotella followed Moose’s at-bat with a grounder to deep short that the Orioles’ J.J. Hardy really had no play on. But Cain bailed Hardy out by drifting between second and third and then standing still for Hardy, who easily got Cain in a rundown for a big out to kill the inning.
— C’mon, Rex! Evidently, FOX Sports Kansas City announcer Rex Hudler had a chance to make a catch in the booth in the early going and dropped the foul ball, drawing a huge round of sarcastic boos from the fans. Hudler hammed it up, though, and saluted the crowd. He then went and picked up a glove he had stored in the booth and showed that to the crowd, indicating he might use it from now on.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.