For the third time in the last two weeks, I come home drenched in euphoria, without a voice, relishing another postseason win.
I don’t want it to stop. Ever.
The most amazing run of baseball anyone in Kansas City rolls on Tuesday night as the Royals edge the Orioles by a 2-1 score. That’s three in a row in the ALCS. To go along with three in a row in the ALDS. To go along with the epic Wild Card win. Add them together and you have a 7-0 start to the postseason. Add them together and you have an unreal stretch of baseball.
I know it’s been written before… You simply can’t make this up. There’s no way anyone would believe you if you presented this story. Hell, on September 29, there’s no way I’m buying this. And I was pretty giddy at the time that the Royals were just in the postseason and hosting a Wild Card game. No, you can’t make this up.
The heroes on Tuesday start with Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie retired the first four batters he faced – ground out to first, pop out to first, strikeout and ground out to first. I keep score at the game and I almost remarked to my kid that these four batters represented just about the best looking scorecard you could ask for from any starter, let alone Guthrie. I caught myself thought. Not because I’m superstitious. Because I don’t want to jinx the guy. Apparently, just the thought is enough to tilt the game on it’s axis as Steve Pearce and JJ Hardy lashed back to back doubles to score a run. After a walk to Ryan Flaherty, Nick Hundley scorched another ball to the right-center gap that Lorenzo Cain was able to track down. It felt as though this was a pivotal inning. Guthrie wobbled, but didn’t collapse. Three balls were laced and only one run scored.
I don’t know if the long layoff – Guthrie last pitched in the clincher against the White Sox on September 26 – affected him in any way. I heard him describe his start as “a grind” and that’s what it felt like watching from the stands. The Orioles were having good plate appearances, Guthrie was throwing a lot of pitches, but aside from the second inning, they weren’t able to hit him at all.
Then there was Mike Moustakas who was doing his best Brooks Robinson impersonation at third. Maybe I should use George Brett in the ALCS Game Three of 1985 as comparison, but the way Moustakas laid out for the smash off the bat of Pearce in the top of the fourth sure looked like the former Oriole third baseman to me. Besides, a defensive comp to Robinson is about the highest compliment you can pay a third baseman. Then, that play in the sixth where he dove into the dugout suite… Probably the best defensive play I’ve seen in person. I was sitting in the upper deck, just to the right of home plate. I saw the ball go up. I saw the ball drift over the crowd and then push back toward the field. I said out loud, “He’s got a chance.” Wow. That play is just another signature moment in a postseason full of signature moments. These guys never fail to surprise.
On the way home from the game, I had the post game radio show on in the car and Steve Physioc said something I thought was really cool. (I know… Bear with me on this.) He said, “As for the Royals defense, Lorenzo Cain is playing like Willie Mays. Mike Moustakas is playing like Brooks Robinson. Eric Hosmer is playing like Keith Hernandez. And Alex Gordon is playing like Alex Gordon.” I know, right? Amazing.
One of the stories of this insane postseason has been how the Royals have swung the thundersticks and morphed into formidable power hitters. Not on Tuesday night, as the Royals collected seven hits, all singles. The offense felt like the Royals offense of the regular season. That is to say, it felt mortal. Lorenzo Cain singled in the first with two outs, but was stranded when Eric Hosmer rolled one over to second to end the inning. In the third, Omar Infante had a really good 10 pitch at bat before lining a single, but was erased on a Moustakas double play.
Finally, the Royals broke through in the fourth. A pair of one-out singles by Cain and Hosmer was followed by a walk to Billy Butler. Again, here comes Gordon with the bases loaded. Is it just me, or does it seem like almost every game has a bases loaded Alex Gordon moment. Uncanny how that situation seems to find him. At least to me it is. Gordon hit a grounder to second that Schoop had to range to his left to get. His only play was to first and Cain scored the tying run.
In the sixth, Nori Aoki led off with a single. As per Ned Yost’s book of managerial moves, he inserted Jarrod Dyson to pinch run for Aoki. It makes all sort of sense given he’s going to enter the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh or eighth inning. There have been times where Yost has actually missed his opportunity to pinch run Dyson for Aoki, but he didn’t on Tuesday. He must have highlighted that portion of his managerial handbook, so he wouldn’t miss it. Dyson advances to third when Hosmer pulls a ball into right. With runners on first and second, this is where Buck Showalter makes his move, inserting Kevin Gausman into the action to face Billy Butler. With a 41 percent ground ball rate, Gausman is a pitcher who keeps the ball on the ground. He also owns an 18.5 percent strikeout rate. Either outcome would suit the Orioles. Nearly half of Billy Butler’s batted balls in play are grounders.
In a moment that happens only in a Royals game in October, where the most likely outcome seems preordained to be a ground ball or a strikeout, Billy Butler lofted a fly ball to left. It was deep enough to easily score Dyson from third.
Royals 2, Orioles 1.
All that was left was for the Three Relievers of the Apocalypse to finish the Orioles. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland all pitched clean innings to close out the game.
Game Three was reminiscent of those games in September, when things really started clicking for this team. It all follows Ned Yost’s masterplan: Get solid starting pitching, scratch out enough hits to plate one more run than your opponent, add a pinch runner and/or a defensive replacement, and turn the ball over to your bullpen.
Tuesday, that recipe yielded a 3-0 lead in the ALCS.
One win away from the American League pennant and a World Series appearance.
Quick postscript: I forgot to mention more examples of how this team is connecting with the fans. In the early innings, a batter (either Moustakas or Hosmer, I can’t remember) ripped a ball foul that almost nailed first base coach Rusty Kuntz. His helmet rolled away and when he went to pick it up, he exchanged high-fives with fans in the first base dugout suite. High-fives of relief because that ball was scorched and it was going right for his dome. Kuntz is approaching cult figure status in KC and it was fun to see him react like that. Then when Moustakas made that catch in the third base dugout suite in the sixth, after he went back to his position, the fans in that suite were pointing at him and Moustakas pointed back. A small gesture, but an acknowledgement nonetheless. It was, in my mind, the perfect moment between fans and this team. The fans are saying, “We got you, we won’t let you down.” Moustakas is saying, “I got you, too. And I won’t let you down either.” Maybe that’s a bit hokey on my part, but part of what has made this ride so damn enjoyable has been the interactions between players and fans. This city is embracing this team and instead of running from it, the Royals, to a player, are accepting their role in our storybook seasons. It’s a blast.
And one final thing… The Royals brought back Freddie Patek, Dennis Leonard, Jeff Montgomery and Bret Saberhagen, along with Art Stewart and George Toma for the ceremonial first pitch thrown out by none other than George Brett. So cool to see the past represent for the present.