KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the third time in 10 days, the Royals doused themselves with champagne. And a playoff-starved fan base celebrated throughout the City of Fountains deep into the night.
The Royals powered past the stunned and bleary-eyed Angels, 8-3, on Sunday night before 40,657 maniacal fans at Kauffman Stadium, completing a pulsating three-game sweep that has sent the Royals into the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1985.
The Royals will open the ALCS on Friday in Baltimore.
"This is great and I love it," starter James Shields bellowed above the noise in the victorious Royals clubhouse. "But we’re not done yet, man! This is just the start!"
Added manager Ned Yost, "There’s two great teams left standing in the American League, and it’s going to be a great series."
After winning three straight postseason games in extra innings, the Royals turned up the offense in this one and blew past the Angels, the heavy favorites in the series.
Said a disappointed Angels manager Mike Scioscia: "The Royals played terrific baseball and they deserve to go on. We tip our caps to them."
There were heroes galore.
Left fielder Alex Gordon got the party started with a bases-clearing double in the first, wiping out a 1-0 deficit and giving the Royals a 3-1 lead.
"Everybody knows who the leader on this team is," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "He got us going tonight."
Then Hosmer, who won Game 2 with a go-ahead, two-run homer in the 11th inning, put the Royals in total command with another two-run blast, this one in the third inning.
Hosmer’s close buddy, third baseman Mike Moustakas, who won Game 1 with an extra-inning homer, added another in the fourth inning.
"It seems like every time we made a mistake," Scioscia said, "they hit it out."
Then there was center fielder Lorenzo Cain, so brilliant defensively all series, stealing two outs with back-to-back breathtaking, diving catches in the fifth when it appeared the Angels might crawl back into the game.
"I’m a fan, too," Shields said. "I like to sit back and watch them all do their stuff out there, and show off their athleticism. They’ve been doing it all year."
— The Hoz. The K shook when Hosmer unloaded on a fastball with the score 3-1 in the third inning. Hosmer drove a fastball deep into the left-center-field seats, 418 feet from home plate. The blast seemed to put the Royals into total control and was reminiscent of some of Hosmer’s opposite-field blasts during the second half of last season.
— Gordo comes through. It’s no secret that Gordon is looked up to and admired throughout the Royals’ clubhouse. Unfortunately, Gordo has had precious few big hits during the September stretch run and here into October (though he did get an RBI single Friday night). But Gordo came through in the first inning with the Royals trailing, 1-0, the bases loaded and two outs off starter C.J. Wilson. Gordon belted a curveball off the wall in left-center, deep enough that even Billy Butler scored all the way from first (yes, the same Billy Butler who got his first stolen base in two years in the third inning). "Bet you all didn’t know Billy could run," Shields said, laughing. "I’ve been telling him to steal all season long."
— Big Game James. Almost forgotten amid all the Royals’ offensive fireworks was the job that Shields did to keep the Angels at bay. No, this wasn’t Shields’ best performance, by far. But this was a desperate Angels team ready to pounce on any mistakes. And Shields did serve up a few, including home-run balls to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. But Shields battled and grinded through six gutty innings, giving up six hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. He delivered. "I just grinded it out, man," Shields said. "Just grinded it out. That’s what this game is about and that’s what I’m about. Don Zimmer always told me I’m a bulldog." Added Moustakas, "That’s what makes a great pitcher great, when you don’t have your best stuff and you can still go out and get it done."
— Salvy’s slump. The Royals didn’t need Sal Perez this series, obviously, but they no doubt will pretty soon. Perez stranded a runner on third in both the first and third innings. He’s still swinging at way too many pitches outside the zone and is just 3 for 19 in the postseason.
— Same for Omar. Right along with the slumping Sal is the slumping Omar Infante, who was terrible down the stretch in September. Infante is just 2 for 16 in the playoffs now. He’s a playoff veteran who should be adding much more right now.
— The wave. The crowd has been so terrific during the two playoff games, but for some reason, some folks tried to start the wave in the middle of the game. But the real baseball fans apparently intervened and the wave was stopped, hopefully before a national TV audience saw it.