- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just a few weeks after compiling an 8.31 ERA for Class A High Desert, Leo Nunez found himself facing two of the toughest hitters in the American League — with runners at second and third.

Completely poised, the 21-year-old Nunez first struck out Melvin Mora, who hit two home runs the night before. Then he coaxed a harmless fly ball out of Miguel Tejada, who had 150 RBI last year and was on an 11-game hitting streak.

A short time later, after Nunez pitched 2-2/3 innings of one-hit relief yesterday, the Kansas City Royals had a 7-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles and their seemingly fearless rookie had his first major league win.

“He made me look real smart,” interim manager Bob Schaefer said. “He was awesome.”

Emil Brown hit a three-run homer and Angel Berroa added a solo shot in the third for a 6-0 lead that hardly seemed insurmountable because the Orioles had rallied from deficits of six, seven and three runs in their three previous games against Kansas City.

They immediately scored four in the fourth against Runelvys Hernandez. In came Nunez (1-0), who was obtained last winter from Pittsburgh in the Benito Santiago deal and brought up from Class AA Wichita on May 9.

He did not try to be cute, going right after Mora and Tejada.

“He says he feels great because [Schaefer] believes in him,” Nunez said through teammate Jose Lima, acting as the rookie’s translator. “It feels great to go up there and face the best hitters.

“He says it feels great, facing one of the best teams in the American League now. Now he’s going to go home and call his family and tell them it was a sweet one.”

The Royals (12-29) improved to 4-4 under Schaefer, who took over for Tony Pena on May 11. But they still have the worst record in club history after 41 games.

The Orioles, who had won six in a row at Kauffman Stadium, still have the AL’s best road record at 13-5 after finishing a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Kansas City 4-3.

“We were in the game. We had our chances,” manager Lee Mazzilli said. “Guys at second and third and one out, but we couldn’t do it. He threw the ball well.”

In another good sign for the long-faltering Kansas City bullpen, Mike MacDougal struck out all three batters in the ninth for his second save.

Rodrigo Lopez (2-2) went seven innings and was charged with six runs and five hits. He took the loss after four straight no-decisions.

“I was leaving the ball up a little bit, making mistakes on the pitches I gave up the home runs,” Lopez said. “Then I started getting the ball down, pitching my game and was able to go deep into the game.

“Their bullpen did a great job. They shut us down after the fourth.”

Hernandez went 31/3 innings, giving up four runs and five hits. He walked six and struck out one.

Matt Diaz’s triple drove in the Royals’ first run in the second. Alberto Castillo made it 2-0 with an RBI single.

Berroa homered leading off the third. Mike Sweeney singled, Matt Stairs walked and Brown hit his fifth home run, putting the Royals on top 6-0.

But just as they did the night before while wiping out a 3-0 deficit, the Orioles bounced back for four runs in the fourth.

After Rafael Palmeiro walked and Javy Lopez doubled, Jay Gibbons hit a liner to right that got away from Brown and went for a two-run triple. One out later, Larry Bigbie hit a high fly to center that Terrence Long lost in the sun. The ball dropped in for an RBI double and the lead was cut to 6-3.

David Newhan’s RBI double made it 6-4, but that was it.

“Leo was outstanding,” Schaefer said. “He throws strikes, he changes speeds, tremendous fastball. But the big thing about him is he can locate and he can change speeds. He threw some good changeups.”

The Royals loaded the bases in the eighth against Steve Reed on two walks and a hit batter. Reed then walked Castillo, forcing home a run.

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