KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bring on the Cardinals or the Giants. The Royals are going back to the World Series for the first time since 1985.
With 40,468 screaming and pleading fans on hand at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals continued their magnificent postseason journey with another pulsating 2-1 win over the Orioles — their second in two days — to sweep Baltimore and claim the American League pennant.
In the process, the Royals also set a major-league record, becoming the first team in history to start 8-0 in the playoffs.
The sweep of the Orioles provided the nation yet another example of the Royals’ usual formula for victories: solid starting pitching, a run or two scratched out, terrific defense and a shutdown bullpen.
All were on display Wednesday before the Royals accepted the William Harridge Trophy for winning the AL pennant.
— Vargy pitched a great game. A day after the Royals got a solid five-inning outing out of Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas turned in a superb 5 1/3-inning outing against the O’s. Vargy gave up just two hits and one run while walking three and striking out six. Granted, Vargas again benefited from spectacular defense. But at least he put the ball over the plate for the most part and kept his team in it, allowing manager Ned Yost to get to his vaunted bullpen.
— Selfless Cain. You could hear Royals fans groan when Lorenzo Cain squared to bunt in the first inning after the first two hitters, Alcides Escobar and Nori Aoki, reached base. Cain, after all, was the team’s hottest hitter this series, coming in at .667. But Cain decided on his own to bunt and got the runners up to second and third base. As it turned out, the Royals probably wouldn’t have scored without the bunt. Eric Hosmer followed with a weak ground ball, and as the play came to the plate, Escobar’s speed got him there at the same time and he kicked the ball out of the catcher’s mitt. The ball trickled to the backstop, and Aoki scored as well.
Not surprisingly, Cain was named ALCS Most Valuable Player.
— Alex’s defense. The Royals flashed great leather once again. Alex Gordon twice made great running catches in left field on line drives off the bat of Baltimore’s Steve Pearce. But Gordon’s best play came in the fifth, when J.J. Hardy smacked a liner headed for the wall. Gordon raced back and made a sensational over-the-head catch before crashing hard into the wall.
— Oh, Sal. Royals fans can only hope that the upcoming rest will have a positive effect on catcher Sal Perez, who has been lost at the plate for well over a month. And Perez isn’t trying to coax any walks, which really hurts the team. Perez flied out with two on in the first. With Gordon on in the fourth with none out, Perez hit a weak pop-out to the pitcher. Gordon was off on the pitch and was easily doubled up. In the sixth, after Gordon got hit by a pitch and it was clear that Miguel Gonzalez was losing command, Perez swung at a 2-0 pitch anyway and flied out to left. In the eighth, with a runner in scoring position and just one out, Perez grounded weakly to second.
— Moose’s swings. Hard to get too upset with Mike Moustakas after all his home runs this postseason and his stellar defensive play, but he did have a rough day at the plate. He struck out in the second, grounded out with a runner on first in the fourth, and then with two runners on in the sixth, he struck out when the Royals really had a chance to bust the game open. Oh, well, can’t be sensational every game.
— You kidding? The Royals are headed to the World Series.