The leather flashed by Lorenzo Cain (left) was more memorable overall, but Nori Aoki's catch in Game 1 against the Angels was no less critical.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — We know about all the fantastic and heart-stopping plays from the Royals’ magical 2014 playoff run.
We remember the Sal Perez game-winner down the left-field line against Oakland in the Wild Card game. We remember the extra-inning homers from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer to win the first two games of the American League Division Series. We remember Alex Gordon’s extra-inning bomb against Baltimore in the AL Championship Series. We remember Yordano Ventura silencing the Giants in the must-win Game 6 of the World Series.
Those were just some of the unforgettable moments.
But there were plenty of other special moments as well, memories that simply got trumped by bigger plays that occurred in the same games.
Here’s a look back at eight such moments that were massively huge at the time:
It was the bottom of the ninth in the unforgettable Wild Card game and the Royals were down by a run. Pinch hitter Josh Willingham started the rally that forced extra innings by serving up a flare down the right-field line that fell safely for a single. Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran, went to second on a bunt (naturally), stole third and scored on Nori Aoki’s sacrifice fly. Without Willingham’s pop-fly single, we’d never have seen the rest of October’s heroics.
In the bottom of the first in Game 1 of the ALDS at Anaheim, Calif., Kole Calhoun led off and blasted a Jason Vargas fastball toward the wall in right-center. But Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall; television replays captured Vargas’ stunned (and appreciative) reaction. The grab set the tone for the entire series as the Royals’ defense choked off the potent Angels attack.
NORI’S BLIND STAB
Also in Game 1, the score was 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth when the Angels mounted a rally. There were two on and two out when Howie Kendrick mashed a drive toward the right-center alley. Cain and Aoki converged on the ball, but at the last second as Cain leaped toward the ball, he seemed to lose track of it. Aoki, a few feet behind Cain, stuck out his glove with his head turned away from the play. The ball somehow found Aoki’s glove and the threat was over. If that ball had dropped, two runs would have scored and the Angels likely would have taken the first game, perhaps even the series. Who knows?
THE DYSON DP
In the bottom of the eighth of Game 2 of the ALDS, the Royals turned in another defensive gem with the score tied 1-1. With pinch-runner Collin Cowgill on second base, Chris Iannetta of the Angels drilled a liner toward left-center. Dyson, in as a defensive replacement in center as Cain shifted to right field for Aoki, snared the liner and threw a one-hopper to Moustakas at third. Moose dived back toward the bag and tagged out Cowgill, who was trying to advance, for a dramatic double play, shocking the Angels and their fans. Then came Hosmer’s heroics in extra innings.
THE MOOSE BOMB
On a misty, rainy night in Baltimore in Game 1 of the ALCS, the Royals squandered a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity in the top of the ninth. Then, you’ll recall, Gordon smacked a towering home run to right field in the 10th, silencing the Oriole faithful. But it is what happened a few moments later that shouldn’t be forgotten. Three batters later, Moustakas whacked a two-run homer to right to give the Royals an 8-5 lead. As it turned out, that two-run jack became critical when closer Greg Holland was nicked for a run in the bottom of the 10th, the only run Holland gave up in the entire postseason.
In Game 2 of the ALCS, the Royals and Orioles again were tangled up in a nail-biter with the score tied 4-4 in the top of the ninth. That is when Infante, who had been battling lower back and shoulder pain for weeks, hit a chopper off the plate toward third. Infante’s back injury had seemed to limit his range at second base during the playoffs. But on this play, Infante gutted it out and sprinted as hard as he could toward first and beat the throw for an infield single. That launched the game-winning rally as Alcides Escobar later doubled in a run and Cain singled in another.
BILLY’S BIG AB
In the bottom of the sixth in Game 3 of the ALCS with the score tied 1-1, the Royals had runners on first and third with one out and Billy Butler up. Royals fans were fearing the worst — a 6-4-3 double play. But Billy came through with a fly ball to left-center, just deep enough to score Dyson, who was in to pinch run, from third. The Royals went on to beat the Orioles 2-1 and took a 3-0 lead in the series.
ANOTHER BIG AB FROM BILLY
In the bottom of the sixth of Game 2 of the World Series, the Royals were in must-win mode, down 1-0 in the series. There were runners on first and second with none out and the score tied 2-2. Butler, who already had delivered a big two-out RBI single in the first, was up as the Giants were looking for the double play. But Butler roped a single over the shortstop’s head and the Royals took the lead for good, 3-2. Butler’s key hit likely has been lost in most fans’ memory banks — it was before Perez’s big two-run double and Infante’s two-run homer, and before reliever Hunter Strickland’s bizarre shouting match with Perez that wound up clearing the benches.