Royals bullpen slams door in 2-1 victory

The Kansas City Royals retired the final 16 batters. They're now 27 batters away from the World Series. Five key moments from their 2-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the ALCS:

1. The final out: 7-0 in the postseason for the Royals.

What can you say? It was a perfect Royals script: Get the lead through six innings and hand the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Game over and good times in Kansas City.

2. Jason Frasor gets through the sixth inning.

Royals manager Ned Yost gets a lot of criticism, but everything is going his way this postseason. Most importantly in this game, he didn't try to stretch Jeremy Guthrie past five innings. Guthrie was at 94 pitches, which made the decision a little easier, but he had just retired the side in order in the fifth, so it might have been tempting to do the whole "leave him in there until one batter gets on" thing that often burns a manager.

Instead, with the heart of the Baltimore lineup coming up, Yost turned to Frasor to face Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce. Eleven pitches later, Jones had fouled out to third base (see below), Cruz had flied out to right and Pearce had flied out to right. In many ways, this was the key inning, the last chance for the Orioles to do damage before Yost turned to the nasty trio of Herrera, Davis and Holland.

As CJ Nitkowski tweeted, Frasor's inning was more impressive than Herrera's in the seventh or Davis' in the eighth. This is one area that analysts such as myself talk about when arguing that having such defined roles is a dangerous thing. Frasor, the team's fourth-best right-handed reliever, faced a tougher part of the lineup than Herrera or Davis. Now, that said, Frasor is a solid reliever who held right-handed batters to a .224/.295/.346 line this year. That's good but not in Herrera/Davis/Holland territory. I'm not trying to knock Yost here, but if Frasor had given up what would have been the go-ahead run at the time, everyone would have been bashing Yost for sticking to his "Herrera is the seventh-inning guy" rule. (Yost, however, did say after the game that Herrera would have come in if Frasor had gotten into any trouble.)

Anyway, in the end, give credit to Frasor for his 1-2-3 inning. It won't got a lot of credit, but it was the most important inning for Royals pitchers all night.

By the way, one more thing that helped the Royals: Guthrie's pitch count ran up in part because of a 32-pitch fourth inning, which included a 14-pitch at-bat by J.J. Hardy. The Orioles might have been better off without so many long at-bats.

3. Royals take the lead in the sixth as Buck Showalter sticks with Wei-Yin Chen.

Hard to fault Showalter for leaving in Chen to start the sixth. The only run he had allowed came primarily as the result of two bloopers, and two of the first three batters of the inning were left-handed. Trouble is, Norichika Aoki singled, and then, with one out, Eric Hosmer drilled a grounder into right field, sending pinch runner Jarrod Dyson easily to third. Showalter then went to the pen, but Billy Butler delivered the sacrifice fly. No home runs in this game for Kansas City but just enough offense to get the two runs they needed to win.

(Cal Ripken made a good point on the broadcast, mentioning how Pearce backed up after holding Dyson on first base rather than jumping further off the bag to a position at which he might have had a chance to grab Hosmer's grounder.)

As Joe Sheehan alluded to, was Buck thinking ahead and worried about burning through his bullpen? Maybe. If you think about possibly playing five games in five days, you're probably not going to be able to use Andrew Miller, for example, for five outs every time out. I think the other issue is that, considering how good Kansas City's bullpen is, at this point, you had to start thinking of a potential extra-inning game, and if you start burning through relievers in the sixth inning, you might run out of your best guys before the 10th. Still, Chen was facing the order for the third time, Showalter does have three lefties and you have to win this game before worrying about Games 4, 5, 6 or 7.

Again, it's one of those decisions that looks more questionable after what happened.

4. Royals scratch across the tying run.

The Royals tied it in the fourth off Chen on bloop singles to center off the bat of Lorenzo Cain and Hosmer, a walk to Butler and a bases-loaded grounder to second by Alex Gordon.

They missed an opportunity for a big inning, however. Both Gordon and Salvador Perez, who popped out to second base to end the inning, swung at the first pitch. Not saying that was the wrong thing to do but Chen had just walked Butler on five pitches. The Royals' aggressive approach helps them put balls in play and avoid strikeouts -- and there has been a developing belief that avoiding strikeouts in the postseason is a good thing, a more valuable skill than in the regular season -- but it can also lead to some bad swings. Again, not saying that was the case here -- both swung at low fastballs -- but a potential big inning got wiped out.

5. Mike Moustakas did this.

Here's the video. Yes, the Royals outfield can play defense and has made spectacular play after spectacular play in the postseason, but the Kansas City infield defense is pretty good as well, particularly Moustakas at third and shortstop Alcides Escobar. As Pedro Martinez said on the postgame, he's never seen a team play defense like this in the postseason.