Culture of Hoops

Kansas City Royals Make It As Easy As 1-2-3 in ALCS Game 3

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Franklin Pierce Adams published a poem, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” detailing the frustration of New York Giants’ fans upon seeing a ground ball hit to Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, or Frank Chance; today some poet in Baltimore may write an adaptation; the refrain as follows – “Herrera to Davis to Holland.”

The Kansas City Royals bullpen trio was ruthlessly efficient dispatching the last nine Baltimore Orioles hitters, and Kansas City is ready to party like it’s 1985. They win in a death-by-papercut style – none of the Royals consequential hits were incredibly well-struck, simply Texas-leaguers falling in the fateful triangle’s endpoints of shortstop, center field and left field. The Royals leatherwork is impressive, Mike Moustakas early diving stop and then his vault into the premium dugout seats robbed Baltimore of precious hits on a night where the Orioles accumulated all of three.

Those three hits allowed Baltimore to score first and stake the Orioles to a 1-0 lead. Steve Pearce broke his slump with a massive double, and J.J. Hardy roped a double past Lorenzo Cain to score Pearce. Baltimore’s highlights ended there.

In the bottom of the 4th, Cain hit one of those bloop singles, followed by Eric Hosmer doing the same, then Billy Butler walked to load the bases. Alex Gordon hit a harmless ground ball to 2nd base, however, Jonathan Schoop’s only play was to 1st allowing Cain to score and tie the game. The Royals broke through in the 6th with Nori Aoki’s single to right field. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for Aoki and advanced to third on another Hosmer single. Butler would hit a modest fly ball to left field, but deep enough to score Dyson. 2-1 Royals and their sad lexicon.

What happened in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings in Kansas City has been happening all year. The playoffs expose bullpens on a national stage and those pitchers often become heroes or goats. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland are charged with locking down the game when Kansas City has a lead. The goal is to turn every game into a six-inning affair and make the last three a fait-accompli. They did exactly that in Game 3, with ruthless efficiency.

Herrera, Davis, and Holland all possess a high 90s fastball with movement. Bullpen pitchers can run up the gas in a way starters can’t. Their role is to throw 10-20 pitches, not 100. Those 10-20 can be thrown as hard as possible. Muhammad Ali once said, “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see” – these fastballs are similar. They appear in the hitter’s eye about halfway to the plate and it’s pure guesswork to make contact. When deployed effectively, it’s hard to see the Royals losing when they have a lead going into the 7th inning. The worst part about facing these pitchers – they’ll do it to you night after night, after all they’re only throwing 10-20 pitches. Sometimes not even that many.

The Royals now stand on the precipice of a World Series berth. This ALCS is the most riveting 3-0 series in recent memory. The Orioles’ task is daunting; to advance to the World Series, they must win their next four games – a feat that has only been accomplished once, in 2004, when the Boston Red Sox turned the tables on the New York Yankees en route to their first World Series championship in 86 years. For the Orioles, the first order of business is making sure they have the larger number on the scoreboard before the 7th inning.

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