Dayton Moore’s mantra as General Manager of the Kansas City Royals has been to “trust the process”; tonight in Baltimore the seeds planted from 2010’s Zack Greinke trade blossomed into a ALCS two games to none advantage.
Lorenzo Cain’s star-turn continues, the postseason’s most exciting player continues to marvel, be it dazzling performances at the plate, on the bases or in the outfield. Alcides Escobar contributed with his usual stellar glove and the go-ahead hit in the ninth inning. Jake Odorizzi, now a member of the Rays, is part of the reason Wade Davis and James Shields toil in America’s steak capital. Hindsight proves Moore correct and this likable, fun group of Royals is returning to Kauffman Stadium two wins away from their first American League pennant since 1985.
Eric Hosmer started the scoring with a two run single off Orioles’ starter Bud Norris. Norris, who pitched well except in moments where he had a two strike or two out advantage, was gob-smacked by the relentless Royals attack. He lasted 4.1 innings, surrendered four earned runs and nine hits, yet walked none. The Royals earned most of their hits in dire circumstances – two outs or two strikes ignited their bats. The telling sequence of Kansas City’s resolve was the top of the third inning. After the Orioles gamely snatched a run in the bottom of the second to trim the Royals’ lead to 2-1, Cain with two outs whacked a high chopper to J.J. Hardy. The well-regarded shortstop was unable to get the throw to first base in time to beat Lorenzo the Lightning Bolt. Hosmer would single and Billy Butler would follow with the run-scoring double.
The Orioles continued to ask questions of Kansas City’s prodigy starter Yordano Ventura. After surrendering a run in the second inning, Ventura settled in, his lively fastball stymied Baltimore’s potent lumber. Staked to a 3-1 in the bottom of the third after Alejandro de Aza worked his way on base, Adam Jones launched a tomahawk missile into the left field stands to even the game. Mike Moustakas replied by sending another home run onto the right field porch but Nelson Cruz’s run scoring single negated Kansas City’s best efforts to run away with the game.
After Ventura left the game to deal with seemingly minor shoulder issues, the Royals bullpen dictated that no Oriole hitter shall cross the plate. In the bottom of the seventh, fireballer Kelvin Herrera navigated a tricky bases loaded situation deftly to preserve the tie, and Davis followed up with an uneventful eighth, setting the stage for the top of the ninth.
After Omar Infante lead off the inning beating out a soft grounder, the speedy Terrance Gore replaced him on the base paths. Ned Yost, the crafty diamond tactician, issued the hottest hitter in the playoffs, Moustakas, the order to sacrifice bunt. Gore moved to second on the sacrifice prompting Escobar to shoot a double down the right field line and score Gore. Jarrod Dyson then chopped a grounder towards the charging Ryan Flaherty, only the ball skipped through the third baseman and left the Orioles with Escobar on third and Dyson on first. Enter Cain. The center fielder, who earlier made a sprawling catch that for him was a matter of routine, stroked a single to left field scoring Escobar. Greg Holland pitched an uneventful ninth inning, and the Royals ceremonially soaked Cain in his post-game interview.
Questions still remain for Kansas City. Many pundits believe the front half of the Royals rotation exceeds the quality of Baltimore’s, yet the starters for Games 3 and 4 favor the Orioles. Furthermore, the Royals bullpen duo of Davis and Herrera pitched two innings each in Game 1 and followed with an inning each in Game 2 – a scenario that never played out in the regular season. Ventura’s availability for Game 6 could be an issue as well. As long as Cain and Moustakas continue to hammer Oriole pitching however, there seems little need to note the flaws in the Royals game.
There’s also little need to point out the flaws in Baltimore. The Orioles have not lost these two games as much as the Royals have won them. Oriole hitters are working deep counts and can’t argue with the production from all facets of the lineup. No hitter is scuffling. The starting pitching appears to be afflicted with an inability to get outs in two out situations and Zach Britton’s two rough outings could be cause for concern. Regardless, Baltimore has yet to claim a lead in this series and as such the merits of their pitching staff’s ability to play from ahead can’t be evaluated.
The ALCS moves to Kansas City where for the first time since 1985, the Royals will play a home postseason game that could deliver them a pennant. The seeds of the Greinke trade along with Moore’s process have proven that trust, when placed in the correct hands, is always handsomely rewarded.