Royals Continue Crazy Year, Head to ALCS
Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
It had to happen this way, didn’t it? Following a regular season full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and several stretches of baseball that made no sense, last night’s game was the only sensible way for the Royals to reach their first American League Championship Series since 1985.
A Royals’ offense that finished last in the majors in home runs clubbed two of them. One of the dingers was hit by Mike Moustakas, who was one of the worst hitters in the league this year. Eric Hosmer hit the other homer, after a regular season in which he couldn’t even reach double digits in that category.
All year, James Shields pitched with such a little margin for error, knowing that he would need to pick up an offense that struggled to scratch across runs. Last night, Shields didn’t have his best stuff, but his defense had his back, and the offense made sure his two runs allowed in six innings wouldn’t be enough to keep the Angels’ hopes alive.
This was the way the Royals had to advance in the playoffs. With the oft-criticized gems of Dayton Moore’s Best Farm System Ever driving balls over the fence, and the acquired ace from his controversial Trade on the mound.
Oh, and Billy Butler stole a base.
Playoff baseball is a crazy thing.
Granted, not everything from last night was completely unpredictable. Lorenzo Cain is likely going to haunt the Angels’ dreams for the next six months, after making back-to-back diving catches in the fifth inning. Kelvin Herrera returned from an injury scare to rejoin Wade Davis and Greg Holland as the Royals’ terrifying Cerberus in the back of the bullpen, and they combined to strike out five batters in three innings. Herrera’s fastball averaged over 100 MPH, so he seems to be healthy.
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The defense and bullpen have carried the burden all season, but last night, the offense provided its own significant contribution, in the form of power from a power-starved lineup.
The regular season didn’t make any sense. The Wild Card game didn’t make any sense. Why shouldn’t the rest of the playoffs follow suit?
The game began much like that Wild Card game, with Shields allowing a home run in the first inning, this time to Mike Trout, who was mostly nonexistent in the series. But just like in the Wild Card game, the Royals answered. Alex Gordon, who spent September as one of the Royals’ worst hitters, delivered the initial blow with his three-run double in the first inning, which drove C.J. Wilson from the game before he could record three outs. Hosmer kept it rolling in the third inning with his opposite field, two-run blast, handing Shields a 5-1 lead.
Albert Pujols hit a home run in the top of the fourth, and Shields allowed two more men to reach base, but as he’s done so many times before, Shields locked things down, inducing a ground ball and a strike out to end the threat.
Moose’s home run came in the bottom of that inning, followed by another run thanks to a sacrifice fly from Cain, and the rout was officially on.
Pitching. Defense. Offense in bursts.
This is how the Royals had to win, and it’s how they’ve shown the rest of the baseball world that they are a force to be reckoned with. They’ll head to Baltimore for the first game of the ALCS this Friday, where they’ll face an Orioles team that is almost as hot, coming off a sweep of the Tigers.
Just like everyone predicted before the season, the Royals and Orioles will battle it out to decide who is going to the World Series. Because after a season of craziness, it only makes sense for it to happen like this.