Kansas City’s First Playoff Game In 29-Years
The game did not begin well. Kansas City Royals ace James Shields gave up a two-run bomb to Josh Reddick in the first inning to put KC down 2-0. However, KC immediately struck back with Billy Butler‘s two-out RBI single to right to score Nori Aoki that cut the lead to 2-1.
Kansas City took the lead in the third inning on back-to-back two out hits. Lorenzo Cain golfed a double down the left field line to score Mike Moustakas from third. Eric Hosmer lunged at an outside pitch and blooped it to shallow left field to plate Cain. Suddenly, the KC Royals were leading the A’s 3-2.
Kauffman Stadium was rocking with a predatory roar that hadn’t been heard in 29 years.
The teams settled into a pitcher’s duel over the next two innings. Neither team scored and James Shield started the sixth needing only one more inning to hand a one-run lead to Kansas City’s three-headed bullpen monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland.
Not only were the Royals PLAYING in a playoff game, they were darn close to WINNING it. Then disaster struck.
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Shields broke Sam Fuld‘s bat to lead off the sixth inning, but he lofted the ball into short right field in front of Nori Aoki. Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson drew a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. At that moment, KC Royals manager Ned Yost made a curious decision. Rather than ask one of his premium relievers to go an extra-inning, he brought in flame-throwing rookie starter Yordano Ventura as a reliever.
Ventura had made only ONE relief appearance in his professional career, which was in a game immediately preceding the 2014 All-Star break. Ventura did possess the hardest average fastball in the game among starting pitchers that season, but he was also a rookie in his first playoff game asked to fill an unfamiliar role.
Ventura immediately threw two balls to fall behind in the count to designated hitter Brandon Moss. He then tried to blow a fastball by Moss. Instead, he blasted it into the right field seats for a devastating three-run home run. Oakland now led 5-3.
Ned Yost had made a mistake he would repeat many times over the next two years. He tried to win a game using half-measures rather than aggressively deploying his best bullpen assets.
Yost brought in Kelvin Herrera to relieve Ventura, but the damage was already done. The A’s smelled blood and scored twice more against Herrera to take command 7-3.
Kauffman Stadium fell silent.
It really felt like a wake for the 2014 season. For five innings, the Kansas City Royals had played a playoff caliber opponent and looked like they could win. Reality had apparently set in with Oakland’s crushing rally in the sixth. Watching on TV at home, I felt destined to spend all winter thinking that the KC Royals fell three outs short of a trip to the American League Division Series.
I wasn’t the only one. All of Kauffman Stadium waited for the end.