KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals crammed 29 years of drama into one night of baseball with goats turned into heroes in every direction and a brand of small ball that was cringe-worthy at times.
They laid down four sacrifice bunts and recorded seven stolen bases during a most improbable 9-8 victory that took 12 innings to turn back the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game. Their eventual hero, Salvador Perez, looked so bad on a strikeout with one out in the eighth inning and the tying run at third that his feeble effort figured to end his team's season.
Their manager Ned Yost (rhymes with roast) was getting torched at every turn for turning a rookie starter into a reliever in the sixth inning and then watching the kid pour gasoline on the fire that was a five-run uprising that gave the A's a commanding 7-3 lead with just three innings to play.
The Royals overcame it all with the kind of clutch hitting that comes from teams who know what to do when the stakes are at their highest, or are just so blindly confident they have no idea of the magnitude of the moment.
Count the young Royals in the latter group, and one that knows how to win the big one now.
"Oh, man, it was a roller-coaster ride," said Eric Hosmer, who reached base five times for the Royals. "They put up two in the first inning, 2-0 alone off a guy like [Jon] Lester, you realize it's a battle, and we battled back. Both teams battled back the whole night.
"For us to come down from a four-run deficit late in the game like that, it was crazy. But this game just kept going back and forth, back and forth. Both teams battled, and I think that's what postseason baseball is all about."
Spoken like a guy who has been there before, and his performance certainly made it seem like he had been. Three hits in an elimination game were one thing, but his triple off the wall in the 12th inning with his team down a run and facing elimination was huge.
But clutch hitting was everywhere from a team that came into the postseason as more of a pitching-and-defense squad.
The Royals scored three runs in the eighth inning on RBI hits from Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler, to go along with a wild pitch that allowed Hosmer to cross the plate. But that still left them a run down, at 7-6.
In the ninth inning it was a sacrifice bunt by Alcides Escobar that advanced Jarrod Dyson to second base when it seemed as if the better call would be to have Dyson steal second and save the out. And in an attempt to throw out all the rules, Dyson then stole third base and scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly from Norichika Aoki.
It would have been Yost at his most defiant had it not been for the decision to use Yordano Ventura in the most unconventional of fashions. With two runners on base and nobody out in the sixth, with the Royals clinging to a 3-2 lead, Yost went to Ventura, who had just thrown 73 pitches Sunday in his 30th and final start of the season.
When Brandon Moss hit a three-run home run on Ventura's third pitch (the first two were balls), it became a second-guesser's dream scenario. The better idea might have been to have a reliever clean up the sixth-inning mess and at least given Ventura the chance to start an inning, but Yost managed to get away with it.
"You know, when we have these games, we map out our pitching, and we try to cover all scenarios," Yost said. "If something happens early, we've got [Jeremy] Guthrie. If we get it past the fifth inning, we're going with our power arms.
"We had the decision there between Ventura, [Brandon] Finnegan and [Danny] Duffy. All three young guys. Ventura came into a game earlier this year and actually won it for us by throwing an inning and two thirds of relief. He was lights-out, and we got to that point where we just wanted to bring the gas. We wanted to bring the gas for the sixth, we wanted to bring the gas for the seventh with [Kelvin] Hererra, Wade [Davis] and Holly [Greg Holland] with a one-run lead and it just didn't work out."
Everything unconventional that Yost tried, his team simply overcame it. The A's certainly didn't capitalize.
"There are some bad feelings right now and obviously right now it's going to be enhanced," said A's outfielder Coco Crisp, who had a pair of hits, but left the game in the 11th inning with an apparent injury. "As time passes, it will seem to fade way. But I might tell somebody, 'Remember when we had that tough game,' or something like that. It was a good game, but that was a rough one."
Moss hit two home runs, but it still wasn't enough to be the hero of this game. Adam Dunn made it to the postseason for the first time after 2,001 career games, but he never got an at-bat. Afterward he said he was leaning toward retirement.
A winner-take-all wild-card process has its many detractors, but Tuesday's first act of the 2014 playoffs gave more drama in one night than anybody could have possibly hoped for.
"That's the most incredible game I've ever been a part of," Yost said. "Our fans were, man, unbelievable. Our guys never quit. When we fell behind there in the fifth inning, sixth inning, they kept battling back. They weren't going to be denied. It was just a great game."