When did I know? When did I know when the Royals were going to Sweep The Leg and sweep the Angels back to Anaheim?
Was it in the first inning when Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing triple?
Was it when the Royals knocked Angels starter CJ Wilson out of the game after that triple?
Was it when Eric Hosmer clubbed his home run to push the Royals lead to 5-1?
No. None of the above.
The pivotal, soul crushing moment came right after Hosmer’s home run. When Billy Butler walked and stole second base.
Yep, that was the exact moment when you knew it was over. If I hadn’t been cheering wildly at that point, I would have looked at the clock to call an official time of death of the Angels 2014 season.
The Royals only needed nine innings for this one.
I remember Alex Gordon’s first at bat as a Royal, back in 2007. Facing Curt Schilling and the Red Sox, Gordon strolled to bat with the bases loaded in the first inning, an early signature moment in a nascent career. Gordon struck out.
Jump ahead to Sunday night. First inning again. Bases loaded again. Gordon this time lashed at a slider on the outer half and took it the opposite way. Into the gap for a bases clearing double. The journey took some unexpected twists and turns. But the destination couldn’t have been more perfect. That double knocked Wilson out of the game and set the Royals on their way.
Wilson wasn’t right. I don’t watch enough Angels games to know, but his pitch selection felt odd and he was definitely having difficulty locating. After his final regular season start where he was cuffed around, this was the Wilson I was hoping (as a fan) to see at The K. He got Hosmer on a called third strike after giving up back to back singles to Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain, but walked Butler on four pitches before the Gordon double. Facing elimination, Angels manager Mike Scioscia had the quick hook. It didn’t make a bit of difference.
With the game still relatively close in the early innings, Scioscia was burning through his bullpen. I guess the reasoning is you throw everyone in the elimination game in the hopes everyone can come back the next day and be available once again. I mean, I suppose that’s a strategy. But as a believer in what I call Bullpen Roulette – where any one reliever can come in and be horrible, derailing your plans – it doesn’t seem like a sound strategy.
The Angels were on their third pitcher of the night when Hosmer strode to the plate in the bottom of the third with Aoki at first. Hosmer, as you may have heard, has been on quite a roll of late. After a stellar effort in the Wild Card game where he reached base five times and scored the winning run in the 12th, he had reached base an additional five times in nine plate appearances against the Angels, including the go-ahead home run on Friday.
You want to see a guy locked-in? Look no further than Hosmer. A 2-0 fastball on the outer half of the plate and he didn’t miss.
Earlier in the season – hell, probably a couple of weeks ago – Hosmer hacks at that pitch and rolls it over to second base for an inning-ending double play. But October Hosmer laughs at such folly. He smoked that pitch to left-center for his second home run of the postseason.
I know in an earlier post, I dismissed the idea of comparing the games of the current postseason with the games from 1985. Having said that, Hosmer’s home run gave this game a very Game Seven of 1985 feel. With the way James Shields has pitched down the stretch and with the lockdown bullpen, a four run lead felt insurmountable. At least I hoped it would be insurmountable. It was still early at that point so perhaps some wishful thinking on my part. But I liked – no, loved – our chances.
With the 5-1 lead, Butler follows Hosmer’s home run with a walk. Then, the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a season full of the improbable, Butler suddenly takes off for second. A steal. And the dude was absolutely motoring. Angels catcher, Chris Iannetta, perhaps taking a mental break from what had to have been an exhausting series for him behind the plate, threw a one-hopper to second that Aybar couldn’t handle.
Stolen base, Billy Butler.
Maybe he was encouraged by the fact he motored around the bases on the Gordon double and executed a perfect slide at home in the bottom of the first. Maybe he’s just been hanging with Mr. Zoombya. Whatever, the reason, it was an astounding play. Stunning. Not exactly beautiful. But damn, it was pretty great.
An inning later, it was Mike Moustakas doing the damage with a home run that landed one row in front of me in right field. My brother sent along this image.
I’m in the middle back with the blue Royals hat. The ball is embedding itself into the guy in the blue top in the front row, just above his hand. Shortly after the home run, my friend asked me, “If I had told you in June that the Royals would be in a playoff series and both Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer would hit a pair of home runs as the Royals swept the best team in the American League, what would you have said?”
I just stared blankly at him. I knew the answer. But I wasn’t going to say it.
With a 7-2 lead, you just are on your knees before the baseball gods, asking them to end the game as quickly as possible. Shields wobbled a bit in the fifth, allowing a single and walk with one out. Up came Albert Pujols, who hit a sinking line drive to the right of Lorenzo Cain. Caught. The next batter, Howie Kendrick hit a sinking liner in front of Cain. Caught. My words can’t do these catches justice. Just watch the video.
I’m watching these replays as I write this and I’m just laughing. This team… I don’t know. All I can say is when this is over my apology post will be pretty damn epic.
And there you go. You had timely hits from Gordon and Hosmer. You had speed on the bases from Butler. (?) And you had great defense in center from Cain. Follow that with the seventh from Kelvin Herrera, the eighth from The Wade Davis Experience and the ninth from Greg Holland and ballgame. A typical Royals win. Just like Ned Yost draws it up on the whiteboard before the games.
Eric Hosmer gets on base four times and blasts the go ahead run in the 11th so send us off to sweet dreams in the early Saturday morning hours.
Yordano Ventura threw high-octane gas all night. He hit 102 mph at one point.
Jarrod Dyson enters the game as a defensive replacement and guns down Collin Cowgill at third base in the eighth. Superb play by Mike Moustakas to get the tag down.
The home plate umpire’s strike zone was drawn like a five year old on amphetamines with a crayon.
The Royals became the first team to win three consecutive extra-inning postseason games. They lead the series against the Angels 2-0.
I want to play craps with Ned Yost. Right now, before his luck changes.
Yost went with Vargas too long….and it worked. He went to a 21 year old rookie as an injury replacement (I would have too, by the way) and it worked. He has a rightfielder who, best I can tell, has never gotten from point A to point B without a detour to point C (and sometimes D, E and F) and said rightfielder made two run saving catches. He pitched Tim Collins in the ninth inning of a tied playoff game and it worked! Hell, in a 2-2 game, Yost used six relievers before handing the ball to his All-Star closer…and it worked.
Roll ‘em, Ned. Let’s get rich.
Of course, not going to Holland until the Royals were in a save situation is not gambling to Ned. It is by-the-book baseball 101. I don’t agree with it, because you run the risk of losing a game without using one of your best relievers. Last night, the book served Yost well. Damn if it wasn’t nice to have Holland go out and blow the Angels away for the save and a 1-0 series lead.
Even with the win, there is plenty to debate. Would you have had Terrance Gore try to steal third? I would have and would have been proved a genius if he had done so before Salvador Perez flied out to center. Of course, I would have been a goat had Gore been thrown out at third. I think the odds were in the Royals’ favor on that one, however, and Ned should have rolled the dice and given it a try. I mean, why not?
Last night, the Royals went 16 straight hitters without getting a baserunner or, for that matter, even hitting a ball square. They went six innings without a hit. Their bullpen walked four batters, hit another and none of them scored. They did not bunt once (did they?) and won on a home run.
What the hell is going on here? I don’t care, I love it.
Not all, of course, was sunshine and roses last night.
Kelvin Herrera left after facing one batter with forearm stiffness. It’s the Royals and we’re conditioned to think the worst and forearm stiffness is often the first indication of UCL issues. How long can you wait before replacing the designated seventh inning guy on the roster? Keeping in mind, of course, that if the Royals replace Herrera for this series, he is NOT eligible for the following series.
Does the Herrera injury make Danny Duffy a full-time reliever for this series and hence Jeremy Guthrie the Game Four starter? That would seem the likely plan of action. After all, even if the Royals decide to replace Herrera on the roster, the pitcher they would call up is not a guy you want anywhere near a pressure situation. A lot depends on just how bad the Royals believe Herrera is hurting, but this is going to be a tough string of decisions.
Also, let’s think about tonight and Yordano Ventura, who has pitched Sunday and Tuesday and not been very good in either outing. Can you bring back Duffy and Finnegan without any rest? If you have to get Ventura early, is Guthrie the call and sort out Monday’s starter later? (The answer is likely yes on that last one, by the way).
This is playoff baseball. It is agony and euphoria and tension and happiness all in one big hairy ball of crazy. For reasons unknown, Yost has guided his team through a landmine of debatable tactics to two wins.
Roll the dice, Ned.
Another game ends around the midnight hour. Postseason baseball didn’t used to be this crazy?
Jason Vargas gives the Royals six solid innings.
Nori Aoki makes circus catches in right.
Terrance Gore steals a base.
The Royals went 2,000 innings between base hits.
Every decision Ned Yost makes works. Again. Somehow.
Greg Holland birthed a baby and saved a game.
AND MIKE MOUSTAKAS HIT A HOME RUN.
Royals win, 3-2.
Analysis later. Maybe. I’m so damn tired.
The actual 25 man roster for the ALDS is out and, unlike I did earlier, the Royals did NOT forget to add Josh Willingham. Two players not on the active roster for the Oakland game, Jason Vargas and Tim Collins, are on with Jayson Nix and Raul Ibanez not being active for this series.
Vargas is a no-brainer, Collins is interesting. While I assumed that the Royals would go with six relievers, I have to tell you that Tiny Tim was not very high on my personal pecking order for that spot. Frankly, I might have gone with Louis Coleman, but then we are kind of splitting hairs on this one.
When your choices are Downs, Bueno, a couple of Colemans and Liam Hendriks, it is hard to be critical of taking Collins….or any of them. Listen, if this series goes right, we will never see Collins, nor have to debate whether he was the right choice.
Beyond that, I love that Colon is in over Nix and Gore is still active over Ibanez. It makes complete sense…..so what the heck is going on? World upside down!
We have waited 29 years to speculate on playoff rosters, so let’s do it twice in a week.
The Royals can revamp their 25 man roster for the series with the Angels and it really comes down to just a few questions at this point. We know, for example, that all five starters will be on the roster – well, we think we know anyway.
Jason Vargas wills start Game One with Yordano Ventura and James Shields following. The Game Four starter, if necessary, is undetermined at this point, but we do know that Danny Duffy will be available out of the pen in this series and is ‘in consideration’ to start a Game Four. Now, if Duffy does make a relief appearance, the Royals might well opt to trot Jeremy Guthrie out to start the fourth game (the only other option would be Vargas on short rest). They will want to keep their options open and hence, all five starters will be on the twenty-five.
We also know that Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Finnegan and Jason Frasor will hold down the first five spots in the bullpen. It would not surprise me if the Royals opt to carry just one more reliever, probably Scott Downs or Francisely Bueno. I personally would roll with ten, knowing that Duffy and/or Guthrie would be available for at least the first two games of the series as well. Ned Yost, however, has always, always worried about running out of pitchers, so look for at least the big five plus one reliever to be on the roster.
Not only do you know what the lineup will be, you also know the order in which they will bat. The starting nine will certainly be joined by Eric Kratz and Jarrod Dyson, giving the Royals 11 position players and 11 pitchers. Should the premium be placed on being able to pinch run and pinch hit at will over having an extra relief arm, then it pretty easily becomes Christian Colon, Jayson Nix and Terrance Gore filling out the roster.
That group of twenty-five would seem to be the most likely. It will be interesting to see what the brain trust in blue comes up with.
EDIT: In my haste to push something out this morning, I managed to forget Josh Willingham, who will and should be on the 25. In my world, Nix is out Willingham is in, but I fear that Yost/Moore may opt for Nix over Colon. Also, they wouldn’t keep Ibanez over Terrance Gore…..would they?
First off, I’d like to apologize for the lame title to this post. Because there isn’t a proper adjective for last night. It just doesn’t exist.
This one is going to take some time to process. I sat in the parking lot at The K after the game for an hour. Gridlocked and exhausted. Got home. Attempted sleep. Woke up. Started typing. And there’s absolutely no way I can do this game justice. No way.
Enough happened last night you could write a book. A Robert Caro sized book. And I don’t even know how to construct this post. Do I go inning by inning? Player by player? Stream of consciousness? After watching a game like that, the one thing I understand is there are no rules. Only postseason baseball.
(Before I get ripped in the comments for an inaccuracy or mistake, Rex Hudler would like you to know that this is not an excuse, but I’m working on about four hours of fitful sleep. I haven’t read any other game recaps. Nor have I seen highlights. I’m relying on my scorebook and my memory. Both are 100 percent unreliable.)
Let’s start with Ned Yost.
Last night absolutely was like a sadistic dream of his come to life. So many bunting opportunities. So many bullpen options. So many chances to completely screw everything up. #Yosted, right? And he teetered on that line all night long. So much disaster. Yet he comes out smelling of champagne.
Turn back the clock all the way to the first inning. I’m convinced the “pick off” of Billy Butler from first base was a set play. Hosmer was on third after drawing a walk. Butler on first after singling home the Royals first run. Alex Gordon was at the plate and was down 0-2. Butler then walks – walks – what looked like 30 feet or so to second base. He gets in a rundown, the A’s wait until Hosmer breaks for the plate, they throw home and Hosmer is out and the inning is over.
On the surface, it’s interesting strategy. On the execution, it’s really kind of dumb expecting Butler to stay in a rundown long enough to get Hosmer home.
However – and this is the way things are going for Yost – as Hosmer gets tagged out at home, Giovany Soto injures his thumb on the play. Soto was in the game to control the Royals running game. He had thrown out around 50 percent of attempted base stealers this year, much better than his catching counterpart Norris who had only gunned down 17 percent.
Of course that matters later.
Not much for Yost to do through the middle innings. The Royals score two in the third to take the lead. Mike Moustakas dumps a single to left, advances on a sacrifice bunt and scores on a Lorenzo Cain double. Cain then scores on a Hosmer single.
— Time for a side note on some individual performances. Moustakas came up three times. I believe he hit the ball to left field all three times. Simply amazing. Two fly outs and the single. Cain had two massive hits, driving in two runs. I really don’t want to call a particular performance “clutch,” especially in the third inning, but that’s how it felt. It’s cliche to say, but the Royals needed to capitalize on their opportunities. It’s relevant to write that because it’s something they haven’t consistently done all year. And Cain came through.
Yost changes the game in the sixth inning. James Shields gives up a single to Sam Fuld and a walk to Josh Donaldson. At 88 pitches, Yost pulled him. I still haven’t seen or heard anything from Yost this morning, so I can’t react to his reasoning for pulling Shields. So I’ll just write how I reacted to the moment: I couldn’t believe Yordano Ventura entered the game at that point. The A’s lineup was so lefty heavy, I thought the better choice there was Brandon Finnegan. And if Jonny Gomes – the guy who slayed the Royals in Boston with a sixth inning pinch-hit home run – comes up, I don’t really care. I have faith in Finnegan to get guys out, no matter the platoon split.
Of course that matters later.
Ventura gives up a laser shot to Moss to dead center and the A’s retake the lead. A single and an out later and Kelvin Herrera comes in and gives up a couple more hits. Five runs. The K turns dark.
This isn’t a second guess on my part. I don’t like bringing in Ventura at that spot for a couple of reasons. For one, he threw 73 pitches just two days prior. For another reason, I don’t like bringing a starting pitcher out of the bullpen with runners on in the middle of an inning. Especially a young starter like Ventura. For Yost and all his push-button managing, he goes outside the box and comes up with something really bizarre and misguided. I just didn’t understand the move. And it really backfired.
The game stays 7-3 as the Royals come up in the bottom of the eighth. Escobar singles. He steals second – at that point, the Royals second steal of the night. After an Aoki groundout, Cain gets his second clutch hit, driving home Escobar.
Cain steals second – the Royals third steal of the night. Hosmer walks. Butler lines a single, scoring Cain and moving Hosmer to third. Butler was another key contributor with two run-scoring singles.
Terrance Gore pinch runs. Gore steals second – the Royals fourth steal of the night. Luke Gregerson uncorks a wild pitch and Hosmer scores with Gore going to third.
Gordon walks. Gordon steals second – the Royals fifth steal of the night.
This is the point where I told anyone who would listen, you have to pinch hit for Sal Perez. Perez to that point, looked like the Perez of the last couple months at the plate. That means he looked awful. Yost sticks with his catcher and Perez strikes out.
Of course that matters later.
Infante also goes down on strikes, but the Royals pull within a single run. The summary of the inning reads like this: Three singles, two walks, four steals, a wild pitch, and three runs.
Yost managed the late innings with his bullpen as if he had the lead. That was always going to be the plan. No matter what, Herrera was going to throw the seventh. Wade Davis had the eighth. And Greg Holland was taking the ninth. This was the script written well in advance. Yost wasn’t going to ad lib.
Holland wobbles in the ninth, walking the bases loaded. After the first walk to Fuld, Perez commits a passed ball, allowing Fuld to go to second. Moss gets the intentional ball four and Reddick walked behind him. Fortunately, Lowrie flies out to right to end the inning.
The obvious – and correct – move was to lift Moustakas for a pinch-hitter to lead off the ninth. Yost sends up Willingham, who was acquired for exactly this kind of situation. Willingham follows the plan and dumps a single to right. Jarrod Dyson enters as a pinch runner. Escobar bunts him to second. Dyson steals third – the Royals sixth steal of the night.
Nori Aoki clubs one to right field that was plenty deep for Dyson to score.
Do you remember the Royals post game celebration in Chicago after they clinched a postseason spot? Rex and Ryan told Joel Goldberg to tell Aoki, “Kanpai” which is Japanese for “cheers.” Aoki screamed it several times. I loved it. I am particularly proud of this tweet I sent after Aoki’s sac fly to tie the game.
Kanpai motherf*ckers!!!!!!!!!! #Royals
— Craig Brown (@royalsauthority) October 1, 2014
This is where the insanity level gets pushed to the red zone. Finnegan finally enters the game in the tenth. And the kid was nails. Three strikeouts and one single in the tenth and eleventh. After Yost threw his Three Relievers of the Apocalypse, he still needed some shutdown relief. He got it from a kid who was on a college campus when the 2014 season began. What a draft pick.
On the bottom half of the innings, the Royals twice got their leadoff man on with singles. Twice the next batter bunted the runner to second. Twice the runner on second advanced to third on a ground ball to short. Twice the Royals stranded the runner on third.
In the Oakland half of the eleventh, Coco Crisp fouled off a pitch and strained his hamstring. He went to the field for the bottom of the inning, but decided he couldn’t continue. Gomes entered the game in left and Fuld moved to center.
Of course that matters later.
To the twelfth…
Finnegan returns to the mound and walks Reddick to start the inning. Yost replaces him with Jason Frasor, his last short reliever in the bullpen. At this point, only Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie remain. Reddick moves to second on a sac bunt. He goes to third on a wild pitch. Not the best night for Sal. Alberto Callaspo steps to the plate. Callaspo worries me. Not because he owned a .290 OBP, but because I’ve seen enough of him to know he can handle the bat. He rarely gives anything away. And he got a good pitch and lined it for a single.
Gut punch. 8-7, Oakland.
Bottom of the twelfth, Cain grounds to first. Hosmer crushes a ball to the left-center gap. This is my slow-motion moment of the night. The ball kept going, going… I looked to the outfielders. I realize they are going to probably collide. I hope they drop the ball…
They did collide. It turns out the ball hit off the top of the wall. I don’t think anyone got a glove on it.
Return to slow motion… I think to myself, there’s no way someone caught the ball. It seems like an eternity, but the ball appears… Rolling away from the outfielders. Pandemonium. Hosmer with a triple.
Remember, Crisp was out of the game with a hamstring issue. Gomes and Fuld isn’t the same as Fuld and Crisp. Does a healthy Crisp make that catch? I don’t know, but maybe he plays it off the wall, holding Hosmer to two bases instead of three. Who knows? Baseball, man.
Colon steps up. I’m surprised we aren’t seeing Raul Ibanez, who was on the roster for the game. Something about needing a professional at bat runs through my brain that clearly can’t focus because the decibel level is punching through the clouds. Colon hits a chopper that goes about 45 feet in the air. The ball travels 45 feet down the third base line. Hosmer runs on contact. Donaldson can’t barehand the ball.
What just happened? Jeremy Guthrie starts to throw in the Royals bullpen. I’m hallucinating, seeing visions of an 18th, a 19th, a 20th inning. The stadium is vibrating.
The A’s manager goes match-up and brings in his left-hander to face Alex Gordon. Gordon had a difficult night, a walk the only time he reached. He fouls out on the first pitch.
Up steps Perez. The guy I wanted removed from the game in the ninth. The guy who is swinging at anything in both the 816 and 913 area codes.
Melvin goes to his bullpen and brings in Jason Hammell. What did I say earlier about bringing a starter into a game with runners on base? Oh, yeah…
Colon steals second. That’s the Royals seventh steal on the night. Remember how the A’s wanted Soto behind the plate to neutralize the running game as much as possible? Granted, with these track stars, that’s probably not going to happen. But the A’s and Melvin clearly thought their best chance was with Soto behind the plate. When Soto exited the game in the third that was a potential game changer. Obvious in the twelfth when Colon steals on a pitch out that Norris doesn’t handle. It’s a good pitchout, but he takes his eyes off the ball, it pops out of his glove and Colon gets to second without a throw. Seven steals by seven different players. Six steals of second. One steal of third. Run, run, run.
With Colon on second and Perez at the plate, I don’t need to tell you what happened next. From Mark Simon at ESPN:
I’m not sure, but I think the stadium lifted off the ground. Just to be thorough, we broke every single law of physics known to man.
The most insane game I’ve ever witnessed. Many Yost moves and non-moves backfired at the moment, but they all – all – ultimately formed the recipe for victory. What happens if he brings Finnegan into the game in the sixth? What happens if he pinch hits for Perez? What happens if he doesn’t steal or bunt all night? (Forget that last one. That’ll never happen.) What happens if he brings Ibanez up in another crucial situation? Some moves were #Yosted at the time they happened. But everything – everything – came up perfect for the Royals and Yost. If you see him walking by a casino, grab him, pull him inside and roll some dice. At this point it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll win.
A couple of personal notes that I would just like to share. My six year old nephew was at the game with his parents. His dad caught him a foul ball off the bat of Eric Hosmer. He stayed up way past his bedtime and thinks last night was the most awesome night of his life. I’m pretty sure it was. Also, today would have been my grandfather’s birthday. Answer Dave at Big League Stew was kind enough to link to my story about him just before the Wild Card game. I absolutely thought of my grandfather when the Royals walked it off.
Another note: I will not compare this game to Game 6 (or Game 7) of 1985. Apples and oranges. Different scenarios, different players, different eras. What happened last night stands on it’s own. We don’t need perspective. We saw it. We cheered. We cried. We high-fived and hugged total strangers. It was brilliant. That’s more than enough.
Finally, there are so many trivia factoids from this game. I can’t digest them all at the moment. So much has been made about the A’s and their playoff record in elimination games with Billy Beane as GM. Whatever. How about the Royals going 7-0 in their last seven postseason elimination games? Chew on that for a little bit.
Then here’s my favorite trivia from the night:
That was the second post season winner-take-all game that went 12 or more innings.
Welcome back to October, Kansas City.
Sensory overload – at least that’s what I’m calling this headache this morning. It couldn’t be the six hours of drinking, could it?
If you are reading this, you were at or watched or read about last night. I hope you saw it all, because it was one of the most entertaining baseball games in quite a long time. Forget that it was our Kansas City Royals that were involved. This was one great game: not greatly played or managed, mind you, just a tremendous spectacle to view.
You want a recap? I can think of nothing better at this point than a simple presentation of Craig’s scorebook from last night:
That’s what a twelve inning playoff win looks like, boys and girls.
While I was all ready to transfer my 38 year hatred of Chris Chambliss onto that two home run hitting SOB named Brandon Moss, all is now forgiven. Bizarre baserunning in the first? Forgiven. Ventura instead of Herrera in the sixth? It’s okay. Bunts, bunts and more bunts? All the bunts, it’s fine.
We move onto the Angels. Last night was fun/thrilling/unbelievable, but the real playoffs start on Thursday (yes, that’s sarcasm). Momentum, they say, is only as good as the next game’s starting pitcher, so who do you go with on Thursday and Friday, knowing the Royals will have Shields ready for Sunday’s return to Kansas City?
Duffy, if healthy and despite his issues last weekend, would be my choice, but I can see a case for Vargas, as well. Hell, after last night’s magic, I could tolerate Guthrie even, just because my heart is filled with freaking joy.
Bring on the Angels. Analysis later, let’s bask in the magic of last night for a little while longer.