Well, that went exactly according to script. Both No. 1 starters were gone by the sixth. The Royals hit home runs. The Orioles stole bases. Fourteen runs, 26 hits. Buck Showalter's bullpen matchups didn't work in the end, while Ned Yost used Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis for two innings apiece. The Royals win the ALCS opener 8-6 in 10 innings, and it was a heck of an adventure. The Orioles even got the winning run to plate in the bottom of the 10th. Whew.
Five key moments:
1. The Royals love extra-inning home runs.
— Baseball Tonight (@BBTN) October 11, 2014
Alex Gordon just hit one that even Alex Gordon couldn't catch
— Nationals Review (@nationalsreview) October 11, 2014
Royals are 1st team in MLB history to win 4 extra-inning games in single postseason
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) October 11, 2014
And the Royals never lost again.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 11, 2014
This is what happens when 29 years of postseason absence reverts to the mean.
— Brian Bannister (@RealBanny) October 11, 2014
For all the crazy plays in this game -- and there were plenty -- it was decided in the most conventional of manners: a home run. Or home runs. Alex Gordon homered off Darren O'Day leading off the 10th and then Mike Moustakas added a two-run shot off Brian Matusz.
Should the sidearmer O'Day have faced Gordon? I didn't have a problem with keeping him in there. O'Day held lefties to a .189 average, although eight of the 18 hits against him were for extra bases. But Gordon actually had a higher slugging percentage against lefties, so he's not a guy with a big platoon split. Plus, with Chris Tillman's early exit, O'Day was already Showalter's fifth reliever of then game. At this point, considering the quality of the Kansas City bullpen, you had to start thinking the game might go a few more innings. You couldn't start burning relievers now on matchups. Plus, the next two hitters were right-handed.
As for Moustakas. He had one home run in his final 163 at-bats of the regular season. He now has three in the postseason, two of those in extra innings. (Yes, that's three games the Royals have now won in extra innings via the home run.) The Royals, last in the majors with 95 home runs, have now hit seven in five postseason games.
2. Orioles escape ninth-inning jam.
Smart play by Pearce to not step on the bag. A tag at the plate would not have worked.
— Ian Browne (@IanMBrowne) October 11, 2014
When the Royals failed to score after loading the bases in the top of the ninth with the game tied at 5, you had to think this was Baltimore's game. No way the Royals recover, right? Anyway, Orioles closer Zach Britton walked the first three batters he faced -- he threw 12 straight balls at one point, as his two-seam sinker kept sinking too much -- after having not walked more than one batter in any of his 74 appearances this season. Weird things can happen in the playoffs.
Indeed, it got weirder when Eric Hosmer swung at a 1-0 slider 6 inches off the plate after those three walks and then grounded to first baseman Steve Pearce, who threw a one-hopper to the plate of which Nick Hundley made a miraculous snow-cone scoop to get the force. O'Day then replaced Britton and induced Billy Butler to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
3. The cat-and-mouse game with Jarrod Dyson in the seventh.
Jarrod Dyson is apparently too fast
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) October 11, 2014
— robneyer (@robneyer) October 11, 2014
Kevin Gausman walked Norichika Aoki leading off the inning. Not good for the Orioles, because that got Dyson into the game. With Gausman throwing over to first base five times and Pearce jockeying back and forth in front of the bag, the Orioles tried everything to hold Dyson close. Dyson finally went on a 1-1 pitch and easily swiped second base ... except his back foot came off the bag by an inch or two and Jonathan Schoop applied the tag, and umpire Joe West called him out.
Did Schoop push him off the bag? Hard to say. It definitely wasn't a Kent Hrbek-Ron Gant moment (1991 World Series). Royals fans were understandably upset, but the onus is on Dyson to stay on the bag, barring blatant obstruction by the fielder. Cowboy Joe is nobody's favorite umpire, but I don't think you can blame him here. Ned Yost had a chance to challenge the call and didn't (and it wouldn't have been overturned).
The play would haunt the Royals when Eric Hosmer singled with two outs -- with the bases empty instead of with Dyson on second.
4. James Shields -- with help from his manager -- lets Orioles back in game.
To be fair to Shields, the name isn't "Excellent in Big Game" James, it simply notes that he appears in them.
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 11, 2014
James Shields without his changeup is Lewis without Clark
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) October 11, 2014
Up 5-1 in the fifth, an obviously scuffling Shields allowed a go-ahead double to Nelson Cruz, smoked off the wall in the left-field corner, and walked Pearce to load the bases. He struck out J.J. Hardy looking on a 3-2 cutter that could have gone either way. With Brandon Finnegan ready in the bullpen and lefty-swinging Ryan Flaherty up, it seemed to be the time for a move considering Flaherty's .174 average against southpaws, but Yost stuck with Shields and Flaherty lined a two-run base hit to right.
Maybe Yost was worried about bringing in the rookie with the bases loaded. Or maybe he was worried the Orioles would counter with Delmon Young off the bench. I won't bang Yost too hard on this one, but the O's had been hitting Shields (several hard outs as well). Shields got out of the inning when Schoop lined out to second base.
5. Gordon drives in three with a broken-bat double.
Alex Gordon silenced this crowd with his bat in the top of the third and silenced them again with his glove in the bottom of the inning.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) October 11, 2014
Alex Gordon led all outfielders in Web Gems this season. Ring up another.
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) October 11, 2014
The Orioles drew first blood when Escobar homered leading off the third, and Chris Tillman then faced trouble against Hosmer with two runners on but worked back from a 3-0 count to blow away Hosmer with a 94 mph inside fastball. Billy Butler reached on an infield single in the hole to shortstop, setting up the game's first critical plate appearance.
Gordon fouled off three fastballs but got the count full. Gordon got jammed on another fastball and broke his bat, but the looped down the right-field line for a bases-clearing double and a 4-0 lead.
You can call it good luck for the Royals and bad luck for the Orioles, but that's Royals baseball: They had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, and sometimes just putting the ball in play can result in good things. So give Gordon credit there. And, conversely, the knock against the Orioles' rotation is that it was 11th in the American League in strikeout rate and Tillman's 17.2 percent K rate was below the team's 18.2 percent average.
This is one of the more intriguing subtexts of this series. The Royals have the best contact rate among the remaining playoff teams and the Orioles the worst. As Joe Sheehan pointed out in his ALCS preview newsletter, teams with the better regular-season contact rate are 29-10 in playoff series since 2009. It's possible that not striking out is turning into a positive predictive tool.
(By the way, Gordon then made a diving catch with two runners on to end the bottom of the inning.)