The Kansas City Royals waited nearly three decades to return to the postseason. Now that they’re here, they want to stick around for a while.
Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing double in the first inning, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each homered and the wild-card Royals finished off a sweep of the mighty Los Angeles Angels with an emphatic 8-3 victory Sunday night in the AL Division Series.
The scrappy team with the quirky manager, popgun offense, dynamic defense and lights-out bullpen will open the AL Championship Series against the Orioles beginning Friday night in Baltimore. Kansas City went 4-3 against the O’s this year.
The Angels, 98-64 in the regular season, became the second team in the divisional era that began in 1969 to have the best record in the majors and get swept out of the playoffs. In no small coincidence, the Royals dealt the same humiliating fate to the New York Yankees in the 1980 ALCS.
Stalking around the mound amid an electric atmosphere, James Shields lived up to his "Big Game James" billing. The Royals’ ace gave up homers to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but otherwise held in check a suddenly punchless Los Angeles lineup.
The highest-scoring team in baseball managed six runs in the entire series.
Shields got plenty of help from the great gloves that made spectacular plays in every game. In this one, it was Lorenzo Cain making back-to-back diving grabs in center field in the fifth inning that ended an Angels’ rally and preserved a five-run lead.
The Royals coasted the rest of the way to their seventh straight postseason victory dating to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series, the last time they were in the playoffs. George Brett, the star of that team, watched from an upstairs suite and raised his arms when ace closer Greg Holland fanned Trout for the final out.
These bunch of Royals is certainly making up for all that lost time.
Kansas City played a 12-inning thriller against Oakland in the wild-card game, and a pair of 11-inning games in Los Angeles before returning home to an adoring crowd at Kauffman Stadium.
This one had none of the drama, not that anybody wearing blue cared.
After Trout staked his team to the lead, Angels starter C.J. Wilson quickly got into trouble. The left-hander with the $16 million price tag this season gave up back-to-back singles and a four-pitch walk in the first inning to load the bases for Gordon, whose slicing two-out double gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead.
Sensing the game already slipping away, Angels manager Mike Scioscia immediately turned the game over to his bullpen. It didn’t fare a whole lot better.
The Royals kept the pressure on, and even plodding designated hitter Billy Butler got in on the act, stealing second base to the roar of the crowd. It was his fifth career steal and first in two years, but it typified the way the Royals have been winning this postseason.
Dazzling pitching, daring baserunning and some dogged determination.
After swiping seven bases and playing small-ball against the A’s, the club that hit the fewest homers in the regular season pounded out four long balls against Los Angeles.
Moustakas hit the first of them in the 11th inning of the opener, Hosmer hit the second in the 11th inning the next night, and both of them went deep to finish off the sweep.
Hosmer’s two-run shot came in the third inning. Moustakas connected in the fourth.
By that point, the Angels – their high-priced offense having fizzled and pitching having failed them – were slumped over the railing of their dugout. They spent the final five innings bundled up against the October chill, periods of rain making their night miserable.
But hardly putting a damper on Royals fans that have waited 29 years for these moments.
Royals RHP Kelvin Herrera pitched a scoreless seventh inning. He left Thursday night’s series opener after five pitches with a strained forearm.
The Orioles, who beat Detroit 2-1 on Sunday to finish off their series sweep, are in the ALCS for the first time since 1997.