Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was another exciting affair, decided this time in the ninth inning instead of the 10th. The Kansas City Royals won it with a small-ball rally this time, scoring twice to beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-4. So they head back to Kansas City with a 2-0 series lead (interestingly, they actually had a better road record even though you would think their speed-and-defense approach would be better suited to their bigger home park). Five key moments from Game 2:
1. Royals don't wait for extra-innings magic.
Royals take Game 2! KC opens up a 2-0 lead in ALCS. Royals still haven't lost a playoff game since 1985. pic.twitter.com/VARn5UR9cO
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 12, 2014
— Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) October 11, 2014
Ned owns me. He owns us all.
— Dave Brown (@AnswerDave) October 12, 2014
Kansas City Royals baseball! If you're not used to it by now, you better be soon, because this is starting to feel like a Royals October. The ninth-inning rally: Omar Infante with a swinging bunt single off Darren O'Day, pinch runner Terrance Gore sacrificed to second by Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar with a late swing on a first-pitch, 97 mph fastball from Zach Britton, that got easily past first baseman Steve Pearce down the right-field line for an RBI double. He later came around on Lorenzo Cain's RBI single. (Have a day, Lorenzo Cain!)
There are a couple of interesting discussion items from the inning. Some questioned the Moustakas bunt, especially since he's been swinging a hot bat with four home runs in the postseason, including one earlier in the game. But considering he hit just .172 against left-handers, Britton is a bad matchup for him. You could have tried stealing second with Gore and then sacrificed, but Ned Yost went with the bunt and it worked because basically everything is working for the Royals right now.
The other issue is a second straight shaky outing from Britton, who walked three batters in a row in Game 1. I don't think Buck Showalter is going to lose confidence in him; the two hits were both ground balls, not screaming line drives, and the rally started with a lucky infield hit by Infante.
Maybe luck evens out over 162 games. But in a short series, that's not necessarily the case. The Royals are making big plays and getting important outs, but they also got some good fortune in Game 2.
2. The Royals get out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh.
— Doug Glanville (@dougglanville) October 11, 2014
Cain is indescribable as far as his defense. I have nothing but good words on the way he has shown up to play.
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 12, 2014
Baltmore's fear of Alex Gordon's arm may have given Herrera a stay of execution. The bases are loaded after Cruz's single.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) October 11, 2014
— Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl) October 11, 2014
The fun thing about Kansas City's outfield defense is that its greatness isn't hidden in defensive metrics that are difficult to understand or process. We can see it -- game after game, play after play.
This inning began with a 4-4 tie, Kelvin Herrera taking over after throwing 20 pitches and two innings in Game 1. As Ron Darling pointed out on the TBS telecast, Herrera had never pitched the next day in the regular season after pitching two innings (which he had just three times). But since he had been so economical in those two innings it made sense to bring him back for Game 2 -- even then, however, he had pitched the next day just once when throwing 20-plus pitches in a game.
Anyway, the inning got off to an ominous start for Herrera when he covered first base on a grounder to Eric Hosmer but missed the bag with his foot. Alejandro De Aza then worked a nice walk, taking a 3-2 fastball just up and out of the zone. Herrera struck out Adam Jones on three pitches. (Terrible at-bat by Jones, swinging and missing all three pitches.)
Now we bring you Kansas City's defense. Nelson Cruz singled sharply in the hole to left field, sending Nick Markakis charging around third and Alex Gordon charging in after the ball. Gordon is the reigning three-time Gold Glove winner in left field and we've seen him show off his range this postseason, but what he's really known for is his outstanding throwing arm. After he gunned down 20 runners in 2011 and 17 in both 2012 and 2013, runners basically quit challenging him and his assists dropped to eight.
With that in mind, Orioles third-base coach Bobby Dickerson held up Markakis and it was probably the right call. It's also worth noting that Markakis took the extra base this year just 17 percent of the time (the major league average is 40 percent), well below his career average of 37 percent, so apparently he's lost quite a bit of speed this year or grew much more conservative on the bases.
Still, it's bases loaded with just one out. While Herrera's fastball averages 98 mph and touches 101, he's not the same strikeout pitcher as bullpen mates Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Among 233 relievers with at least 25 innings, Herrera ranked just 135th in strikeout percentage. But he got Steve Pearce -- having a rough postseason, by the way -- to pop out to shallow left.
J.J. Hardy then lofted a little flare down the right-field line and Lorenzo Cain -- who just moved over from center, where he had made an outstanding play the inning before on a Hardy drive into right-center (see photo above!), after Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for Norichika Aoki -- made a difficult play look routine. Maybe Aoki makes the catch, maybe he doesn't, but there's no denying the Royals' defense kept this game tied.
3. Yordano Ventura leaves with tightness in shoulder.
I think leaving Ventura into the 6th inning was just stretching the extra mile.
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 12, 2014
last time out, Yordano Ventura's fastball averaged 98.2 miles per hour. this time, 95.0 miles per hour and removed by manager and trainer
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) October 11, 2014
Ventura struggled with his command all day and it was curious Yost left him out there in the fifth inning to face the top of the order -- he gave up the tying run -- let alone the sixth, when he left after getting two outs. Yost played with fire and while he didn't get burned in this game, you have to hope he didn't get burned for later in the series if Ventura can't go. Yost did say after the game that Ventura will be able to make his next start. Ventura said he struggled to throw strikes because of the cold (it was 57 degree at game time).
4. Adam Jones lines a home run in the third inning.
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) October 11, 2014
Adam Jones was 5-for-43 with zero extra-base hits in his postseason career before that HR. Good time to get off the schneid.
— Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince) October 11, 2014
— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 11, 2014
On paper, Ventura looked like a good matchup against the Royals. The rookie right-hander had the highest average fastball velocity among starters during the regular season at 96.8 mph; 85 percent of his fastballs were clocked at 95 mph or higher.
The Orioles, meanwhile, were the worst-hitting team in the majors against pitches of 95 mph or higher and Jones in particular struggled against upper-echelon heat, swinging and missing at 30 percent of the fastballs he saw that were 95 mph or higher (as opposed to his 25 percent miss rate against all fastballs).
So those are the numbers. But the numbers don't play the game. With the Royals leading 3-1 in the bottom of the third, Ventura fell behind Jones 2-0 with Alejandro De Aza on second following a one-out double. Considering Ventura throws mostly fastballs, Jones was sitting fastball and Ventura threw a bad one: 95 mph, right down the middle, and Jones drilled a low screaming liner off the fence in left field.
5. Lorenzo Cain with a good read on Eric Hosmer's blooper.
Lorenzo Cain is a supremely annoying player for the opposition.
— Jonathan Bernhardt (@jonbernhardt) October 11, 2014
Lorenzo Cain had the FIFTH-highest Baserunning Runs total on the Royals. Embarrassment of baserunning riches. http://t.co/36tXPlCpW6
— Ben Lindbergh (@BenLindbergh) October 11, 2014
This play seemed to happen in another game, but ultimately proved key. With runners at second and third in the first inning, Hosmer flared a ball just out of the reach of shortstop Hardy. Cain got a terrific read on the play and hustled home from second to give the Royals an early 2-0 lead.