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.