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October D puts Cain in the spotlight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As defensive metrics continue to advance and evolve, Gold Gloves are in danger of becoming the horse-and-buggy of baseball awards. Some managers and coaches who vote on them make their choices based on reputation, or how well a player's offensive contributions complement his defensive exploits, or for other ancillary reasons that aren't necessarily reflected by what happens on the field.

The hardware doesn't always jibe with reality. But that distinction hardly matters to Kansas City center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who would like very much to add one to his collection and join teammates Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer in the fraternity of recipients.

"I definitely want a Gold Glove," Cain said Sunday. "I'm not going to stand here and say I don't want one. I feel like I go out there and put it all on the line, and I'm not going to change my style of play no matter what. Hopefully one day in the future or even by the end of this year, I'll have one."

Based on the way Cain is playing, he has aspirations of being known for his handiwork with wood as well as leather.

The Royals have ridden the home run power of Mike Moustakas and Gordon and some terrific relief pitching and late dramatics to a 2-0 lead over Baltimore in the American League Championship Series, which resumes Monday night with Jeremy Guthrie taking on Wei-Yin Chen in Game 3 at Kauffman Stadium. But no Royal has made a bigger two-way impact than Cain, a naturally gifted player who has always intrigued scouts and personnel people with what he might be capable of doing if only he can stay healthy.

Cain has attracted attention with a series of spectacular catches in center and right field against the Angels and the Orioles in the postseason. He's also hitting .750 (6-for-8) with two walks in two games against Baltimore from the third spot in the batting order.

As the series shifts to Kansas City for Games 3, 4 and (if necessary) Game 5, Cain and Gordon could make an even bigger impact on the Orioles' collective psyches. Kauffman Stadium has the largest expanse of square outfield footage in the majors, according to the Royals, which means Cain and his friends will have lots of opportunities to chase down balls in the gap and torment Baltimore's hitters.

"We've got some guys that can flat-out go get it and make the plays," said Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson. "It ain't like you can just get a bloop in there. Teams know they're going to have to square something up to get a hit on us.

"Think about it: If you felt like you had a triple into the gap off the bat and somebody ran it down and caught it, how would you feel going back to the dugout? You're going to be pissed. You're going to be like, 'Man, what do I have to do to get a hit?'"

The advanced statistical measures love what both Cain and Gordon provide in Kansas City. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Cain ranked second to Juan Lagares of the New York Mets with plus-26 defensive runs saved in center field this season and Gordon led all left fielders with plus-27.

The Royals showed what kind of impact outfield defense can have on a game in their 6-4 victory in Baltimore on Saturday. In the sixth inning, Cain raced from center field to the vicinity of the grounds crew shed in right center to steal extra bases from J.J. Hardy. An inning later, Orioles third-base coach Bobby Dickerson threw up a stop sign on Nick Markakis with one out rather than challenge Gordon's arm. That display of caution put a crimp in a potential Baltimore rally.

"Anytime a ball is hit to the outfield I expect it to get caught now," Moustakas said. "I've seen these guys make such unbelievable catches that everything looks routine now. The way they can track balls down, the way they can make acrobatic catches in right field, center field, anywhere. Cain, especially. He plays seven or eight innings in center field and then goes to right and is just as deadly there."

This is precisely what the Milwaukee Brewers were hoping for when they signed Cain to a $100,000 bonus out of Tallahassee Community College in 2005. Cain didn't begin playing baseball until his junior year in high school in tiny Madison, Florida, and Milwaukee management was willing to give him plenty of time to find his way. Cain logged about 2,500 plate appearances in the minors with the Brewers' organization and spent the 2011 season with Kansas City's Triple-A Omaha club after the Royals acquired him in the big six-player Zack Greinke trade in December 2010.

Cain still isn't a finished product, as evidenced by those 108 strikeouts and 24 walks this season. But he hit .301 with 28 stolen bases, caught everything in sight and plays the game with a passion that makes him right at home in the Kansas City clubhouse.

Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones, a three-time Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star, is certainly impressed with the strides he's seen from Cain.

"He's improved himself," Jones said. "I told him earlier this year, 'If you stay on the field every day, you can do something special in this game.' He's not only proving me right, but he's proving to himself that he can play at this level. As a competitor, he's a thorn in our [butts] right now."

It doesn't take an award to see that.