Opening act suggests Royals-Orioles ALCS will be an epic
BALTIMORE — Get used to this.
Six innings of baseball and enjoyment then … especially if you’re invested in who wins … a tense game of high-stakes chess in an atmosphere more fit for Mardi Gras.
The Kansas City Royals finally broke from the anticipated formula to beat the Baltimore Orioles 8-6 in 10 innings Friday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Pace of game? Pace of heartbeats will be the bigger concern if those 4 ½ hours are merely a taste of a seven-game feast.
Advantage Kansas City after Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas decided the game with the Royals’ new-found post-season magic – extra-inning homers.
Both teams tout their relief pitching with good reason. Baltimore’s blinked. Kansas City’s — more specifically premier set-up man Wade Davis — provided the crucial turn in a game of alternating momentum swings that only became more rapid-fire as the game went deeper into the drizzly night.
The touted Royals’ speed vs. Orioles’ power matchup was a wash. The bullpen battle wasn’t. And Kansas City showed the added advantage that it can also do what Baltimore does best.
“Everybody’s doubting our power,” says Jarrod Dyson, who in his familiar late-inning pinch-running role found himself caught stealing, only the team’s second in 14 tries this postseason. “It’s good to have that speed in our back pocket. It’s always there. But, last I checked, we’ve hit a lot of bombs in the postseason.”
The Royals have won all three of their road playoff games, all in extra innings, all on home runs — the first team ever to win three such games in the same postseason.
It’s the Orioles who were first in the majors in home runs and last in stolen bases, precisely the opposite of the Royals. Yet, Kansas City had the game’s only homers, Baltimore’s the only two steals. Go figure.
And if there ever seemed a moment when Baltimore was ready to deliver the quick-strike dagger it was in the bottom of the ninth after the Royals couldn’t break a 5-5 tie despite loading the bases with no outs.
But Wade Davis, pitching a second inning of relief for the first time since May 29, struck out Alejandro de Aza, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz in order.
“That really shifted momentum,” says Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. “It was all on their side and Wade went in there and shut the door.”
Davis knew he would pitch the ninth if the game were tied, but when Zach Britton walked the first three batters, closer Greg Holland seemed a cinch to take over with a lead.
Not so, with Britton getting Hosmer to hit into a force out at home and Darren O’Day taking over and inducing a double play from Billy Butler.
Davis had to regroup.
“I was rooting as hard anyone was,” he said. “But I had to keep running up to the clubhouse to keep loose, too.”
Davis’ second inning was perfect. O’Day’s wasn’t
Gordon’s winner into right field led off the 10th inning and gave his three hits and four RBI. Moustakas hit a two-run shot later in the inning off Brian Matusz.
So, for one night at least, Kansas City showed it can also do what Baltimore does best. There’s not much evidence the Orioles are going to turn into base path burners. Their two stolen bases Friday came when Jonathan Schoop was picked off second by catcher Salvador Perez but headed for third and was safe then the relay hit him on the back of the head. Nick Markakis trailed along from first on the play for the other steal.
That set up the run that tied the game 5-5 in the sixth, merely setting up the main event.
Both teams got here playing the underdog card, the old Little Engine That Could theme.
But from the seventh inning on, they simply CAN.
Even for the managers, it’s more a matter of maneuvering to that point because they have the scripts down pat from there.
Friday’s six-inning prequel was a sometimes spectacular, sometimes shoddy but always intriguing mix of fundamentals and flaws, sliding catches and base-running blunders, big hits and bigger rallies.
A dominant starting pitcher will be a luxury in this series – and neither team had one in No. 1’s James Shields and Chris Tillman on Friday.
The tie at the point they both were gone had enough twists to keep the wild Camden Yards crowd from even noticing the intermittent rain — 10 runs, 25 base runners, the home team coming back from four runs down.
Once the showdown began in earnest, the Orioles had the upper hand more often.
The Royals are looking for that one opportunity, get a foot in the door and two feet on the bases — and just run. The Orioles didn’t let them.
Nori Aoki walked to lead off the Royals seventh against Kevin Gausman. Dyson, the one who spent Thursday’s media sessions reminding everyone that the Royals are here to run and pretty much daring the Orioles to stop them, pich-ran.
Gausman accepted the challenge, throwing to first base five times with Lorenzo Cain at the plate. One throw nearly caught Dyson leaning the wrong way, the next one was so close that Orioles manager Buck Showalter came onto the field considering – but eventually eschewing – a replay challenge.
Dyson finally went – the first time all night Kansas City even attempted a stolen base. Nick Hundley’s throw got him, only the second time in 14 tries this postseason that a Royals runner was out trying to steal.
Britton walked Alcides Escobar to lead off the ninth. Escobar created perhaps the most stunning development of the night when he produce the game’s first run with a homer – he had three in 620 plate appearances during the regular season.
But the Royals were plotting their more conventional method of winning. But Britton, who hadn’t walked more than one batter in a game all season, loaded the bases on walks, including 12 pitches in a row out of the zone.
But the bullpen made it an easy-chair finish for Yost despite the letdown in the top of the ninth. Once he got into his late-inning triumvirate, everything else fell into place. Kelvin Herrera got five consecutive outs to get Kansas City through the seven. Davis was perfect in the eighth and ninth.
Holland’s 10th could have been anti-climactic but after two outs, he allowed three consecutive base runners and had to get potential winning run Markakis to ground out to finish the game.
Fitting because it’s not likely this series will provide many anti-climactic moments.
GALLERY: Orioles, Royals clash in ALCS
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