ALCS: Royals Extra Powerful Once Again
Score: Royals 8 – Orioles 6, 10 innings
Series: Royals lead 1-0
Game Hero: Alex Gordon; 3-4, go-ahead HR, 3-RBI 2B, HBP, run-saving catch
Game Summary: It was a back-and-forth game the Kansas City Royals had no business winning. Yet, as they have throughout this post-season, the Royals hung tough and outlasted their counterparts to steal a win. Thanks to two homeruns in the top of the 10th, the Royals took Game One of the ALCS by a score of 8-6.
The game began as a pitcher’s duel, as both Chris Tillman and James Shields made quick work of their opponents in the first two innings. Tillman immediately ran into trouble when he faced the Royals a second time through the order, however. With one-out, he fell behind lead-off hitter Alcides Escobar 2-0. Tillman centered a 90 MPH pitch that Escobar crushed into the leftfield seats to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. The homer was Escobar’s first of the post-season. He hit three all regular season.
Kansas City kept the pressure on Tillman in the third. Nori Aoki followed Escobar with a single to left. Lorenzo Cain then walked. Eric Hosmer struck-out for the second out of the inning, but Billy Butler extended the inning with an infield hit to short that J.J. Hardy ranged deep into the hole to field. He fired to first, but Steve Pearce was unable to field the short-hop. That set-up Alex Gordon for his first dramatic hit of the night. On a full count, Gordon hit a broken bat fly ball down the line in right. Orioles’ right-fielder Nick Markakis got a slow jump on the ball and all three runners (including the slow-footed Butler) came around to score.
Armed with a 4-0 lead, Shields looked poised to give the Royals an easy victory. Nothing has come easily in this post-season, however. Markakis led-off the bottom of the fourth with a double and moved to third on an Alejandro De Aza ground out. He then scored on an Adam Jones single. The run brought the crowd back into the game. With two outs, the Orioles made a bid to score again. Pearce hit a sinking liner into the gap in left field. It briefly looked like a run-scoring double before Gordon made a ranging, diving catch to end the inning.
Tillman pitched a scoreless fourth, but he ran into trouble again in the fifth when Cain hit a lead-off double. Hosmer moved Cain to third with a ground-out and that was the end of the night for Tillman. Tommy Hunter took over for Tillman. He allowed a Butler sacrifice fly to make the game 5-1. Gordon then singled, but Hunter picked him off to end the inning.
The Orioles weren’t done, however. Baltimore had the top of their order scheduled in the bottom of the fifth, and they jump-started a big rally against Shields. Markakis and De Aza each singled to start the inning. Jones grounded into a force out, but Nelson Cruz followed with a line-drive double to left that one hopped against the wall. De Aza scored to narrow the score to 5-2. Pearce walked to load the bases. Hardy struck-out, but Ryan Flaherty had a huge two-out hit, singling home two runs. A Nick Hundley line-out ended the inning, but the Orioles were now right back in the game.
Baltimore wouldn’t waste time tying it up. In the bottom of the sixth, Kansas City turned to rookie reliever Brandon Finnegan. He walked Jonathan Schoop to start the inning and then allowed a single to Markakis. The Orioles executed a double steal to move the runners to second and third. De Aza then connected on the oddest base-hit of the night. He hit a soft pop-up over the mound that Escobar dove for but was unable to catch. Schoop read the ball well and raced home to tie the game on a hit that traveled 70 feet.
The Orioles weren’t able to score more in that inning, however, and that would be something they’d regret later on. Kansas City sent the hard-throwing Kelvin Herrera to the mound to replace Finnegan. Jones grounded into a force out to third baseman Mike Moustakas. Moustakas tried to complete the double-play by throwing to first, but he threw it away and Jones was safe at first, while De Aza reached third. That brought up the Orioles’ best hitter, Cruz. He couldn’t come through in the sixth, however, as he grounded into an inning-ending double-play.
The Royals and Orioles would exchange zeros through the ninth. Herrera and Wade Davis made it look easy, combining for four scoreless frames. The Orioles’ Kevin Gausman and Andrew Miller combined for three scoreless frames before they turned it over to closer Zack Britton in the top of the ninth. The normally reliable Britton was all over the place, walking the first three batters to load the bases with no outs. It was the first time all season that Britton walked more than one batter in an outing.
With the bases-loaded and none out, Britton faced Hosmer, who swung and missed on an outside pitch on a 1-0 count. It was a curious decision on Hosmer’s part, as Britton had thrown 12 straight balls. The count eventually went to 3-2, and Hosmer grounded a ball to first base. Pearce fielded the ball next to the first base bag, but he didn’t touch the bag, instead throwing home for the force. His throw short-hopped home, but Hundley made a terrific pick and held onto the ball for the force. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter then turned to submariner Darren O’Day to face Butler, looking for a double-play. That’s exactly what he got, as Butler grounded to Hardy, who started the 6-4-3 inning-ender.
The Orioles had a lot of momentum going into the bottom of the ninth, but Davis would have none of it. The Royals’ set-up man had a historically good regular season, and he showed why in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out De Aza, Jones and Cruz all swinging to send the game into extra innings. The Royals have played five games this post-season and four of the games have gone into extra-innings.
In the top of the 10th, the Orioles stuck with O’Day against the left-handed hitting Gordon. That turned out to be a mistake, as Gordon crushed an O’Day offering well into the bleachers in right center for a solo homerun and a 6-5 lead. O’Day then walked Salvador Perez, who walked just 22 times during the regular season. O’Day struck-out Omar Infante and was replaced by Brian Matusz, who was brought in to face the left-handed hitting Moustakas. Moustakas hit .172 versus left-handers in 2014, but he crushed a Matusz pitch, lining it just over the wall in right for a two-run homer. That homer proved to be the difference in the game after Baltimore scored a run in the bottom of the 10th off KC closer Greg Holland.
The Orioles didn’t go quietly in the 10th. With two-outs, Flaherty singled and pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes walked on a full-count. Delmon Young, who had a huge pinch-hit in the ALDS, came up and he singled a two-strike pitch up the middle to drive home Flaherty. That brought the winning run to the plate, but Holland was able to end the rally by inducing a groundout from Markakis.
What’s Next: These two teams meet again on Saturday afternoon, with Yordano Ventura taking the mound for the Royals against Bud Norris. The series will then move to Kansas City, where there will be an ALCS game for the first time since 1985.
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