KANSAS CITY -- On a night when manager Buck Showalter was absent, so was the Orioles' offense.
Baltimore couldn't solve the mystery of Royals starter Danny Duffy or closer Greg Holland -- being held to a season-low three hits in a 1-0 loss on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Bud Norris was the tough-luck losing pitcher, allowing only a scratch run in the first.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Instead of building on the momentum of two straight wins in this series, the Orioles were on their heels virtually from the outset and never got over the hump, even though the offense stirred a bit in the final three innings.
Showalter missed the game to attend his daughter's graduation from law school and the Orioles couldn't pull it out late for acting manager John Russell. Duffy retired the first 20 Baltimore hitters before Adam Jones grounded a clean single to center with two outs in the seventh. Earlier in the seventh, left fielder Alex Gordon had kept Duffy's perfect game bid alive with a diving catch of Nick Markakis' drive near the line.
Asked if he felt any personal satisfaction in breaking up the perfect game, Jones said: "I don't care about all that. I just don't want to see it done against my team."
Despite Duffy's two-hit mastery through seven innings plus one batter, the Orioles had a chance to steal the game in the ninth after Holland came on. With one out, Markakis drew a walk and Manny Machado singled to right, setting up a first-and-third situation for Jones. The Baltimore center fielder got a temporary reprieve when a two-strike swing was ruled a foul tip. Royals manager Ned Yost argued the ball never touched Jones' bat and was ejected by home-plate umpire Chris Segal.
Jones then struck out and, after Chris Davis walked to load the bases, Holland struck out Nelson Cruz to end the game.
"We had an opportunity in the ninth. It's frustrating and I'm sure there are people telling us how to do our jobs," Jones said. "But hey, they have a good closer in Holland."
Russell said he'd take that ninth inning situation any time with the middle-of-the-order guys in the batter's box.
"We had the right guys up," Russell said.
Duffy is known to have electric stuff, but command issues and high pitch counts have plagued him. The tone was set when Markakis swung at Duffy's first pitch of the evening and grounded out. In the fourth, Machado swung at a 3-0 pitch and popped out. And so it went, as Duffy never had to pitch out of the stretch until the seventh inning.
"Tonight he threw a lot of strikes, a lot of quality fastballs," Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. "You could tell we were kind of off-balance. He did his job, but ultimately we've got to find the barrel a little more and put more pressure on him."
Held to just one run through the opening two games of the series, the Royals were looking to manufacture offense from the outset. Leadoff hitter Nori Aoki slapped a bouncer to shortstop and beat J.J. Hardy's throw. Aoki stole second and scored on Billy Butler's two-out single up the middle.
It was Baltimore's first 1-0 loss since Sept. 20, 2008, against the Yankees.
"It's a loss," Jones said. "It doesn't matter if you lose 1-0 or 50-1. They all stink. Give some credit to the other side. We can go 3-1 in the series [Sunday]. No need to cry about it."
The Royals will try for a split with ace James Shields on the mound. But even Shields can't expect to emulate what Duffy did on Saturday -- retiring the first 20 Orioles hitters.
Duffy knew when Jones connected in the seventh that the perfect game/no-hit bid was gone in a blink of an eye.
"He hit it hard and it was right up the middle," Duffy said. "[Alcides] Escobar is the best defensive shortstop in the game in my opinion. If anybody could get that, it's him. But it was just a hard shot."
The Orioles needed one fly ball by Jones or a hit by Cruz in the ninth to keep Duffy from being a winner. But Holland wouldn't allow that to happen.
"Greg has ice in his veins," Duffy said. "He's a stud."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.