Royals one win from World Series

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jarrod Dyson is an Olympic-caliber fast talker with no filter between the thoughts that enter his head and the words that leave his mouth. But the guy with the word "Zoom'' shaved into the side of his scalp sure has a firm grasp of baseball current events.

Kansas City's brash and diplomatically impaired outfielder has insisted for days that the American League Championship Series is a fait accompli. After the Royals won two straight in Baltimore, Dyson said the series wouldn't be returning to Camden Yards for a Game 6. Then he insisted if the Royals went up three games in the series, the Orioles would be so disheartened they would start thinking about aches and pains, family vacations and the monumental odds of trying to buck history.

Now, suddenly, we're here. The Royals are one win away from their first trip to the World Series in 29 years. And the Orioles, to quote Hal Holbrook in "Wall Street," are looking into the abyss.

The countdown to the inevitable began in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday night, when Billy Butler's sacrifice fly scored Dyson to give Kansas City a one-run lead in Game 3 of the ALCS. Kansas City manager Ned Yost summoned the firm of Herrera, Davis and Holland to record the final nine outs, and the Royals beat the Orioles 2-1 to take a daunting 3-0 lead in the series.

Dyson, Kansas City's resident chatter bug, was caught off-guard by the flap his comments generated and none-too-thrilled by the attention he received. But hey, there's no sense in being a wallflower now.

"You all blew it up bigger than it was," Dyson told the media, "but that's all right. It's cool. I said what I said because we're playing great baseball and I got confidence in this group. I feel like we're playing great baseball and nobody can stop us right now. I'm pretty sure everybody in here feels that way."

It's hard not to be a believer at this point. The Royals, who scratched their way to the postseason as an 89-win wild-card team, have joined the 1976 Cincinnati Reds and 2007 Colorado Rockies as only the third team in baseball history to win seven straight games to begin a postseason. No team has ever opened a postseason with eight.

With every victory, Kansas City's fun "little engine that could" narrative gives way to a "team of destiny" storyline. If the Royals weren't so unassuming and relatively low-paid, you might call them a budding juggernaut.

"Win and you're in," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "That's the attitude you have to have. Do whatever it takes to win a ballgame. We're one game away, so win and you're in."

After winning uncharacteristically in Baltimore with 14 runs, 25 hits and four big flies in two games, the Royals returned to a more conventional formula at Kauffman Stadium. They tormented the Orioles with one sterling defensive play after another while summoning just enough offense to make do. Jeremy Guthrie gave them five strong innings on 17 days' rest, and Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland retired the final 12 Orioles to sap this game of any late suspense.

The Royals hauled out the big guns for inspiration, inviting George Brett to throw out the ceremonial first pitch with Bret Saberhagen, Dennis Leonard, Jeff Montgomery and other franchise favorites showing support. But more than the franchise favorites, it was the prevailing sense of excitement generated by 40,000-plus fans who dress in royal blue, stand the entire game, wave white towels and seem intent upon willing their team to its first World Series appearance since 1985.

"The fans here are tremendous," Butler said. "They have been for the 10 years I've been here. They've waited a long time for this. They deserve this, and they're showing the whole world how excited they are about what we have here."

How much fun are the Royals having right now? In the fifth inning, Mike Moustakas hit a foul line drive that prompted first-base coach Rusty Kuntz to scramble in self-preservation. After Kuntz did a juggling act with his helmet and came to a stop near the stands, he exchanged hand slaps and smiles with a half-dozen fans before resuming his station in the coach's box.

"Between the white flags, the background and me being 60 years old, I didn't even see the ball," Kuntz said. "All of a sudden I end up on the rail and everybody is yelling at me. I figured, 'You guys are paying enough for these seats. I can at least give you a high-five.'"

Moustakas quickly outdid that nifty maneuver. After making a diving catch to steal a hit from Steve Pearce in the fourth inning, he ranged toward the stands in pursuit of an Adam Jones pop fly in the fifth. Moustakas stretched his body to the max, caught the ball and toppled into a fan section between two camera wells to send the crowd into a frenzy.

"If that happened on the road, he might have been out a couple of days," Hosmer said with a smile. "Luckily, the fans were there to save him. He didn't care about the wall. He didn't care about anything. He was willing to sacrifice his body for the team."

There was plenty more where that came from. Lorenzo Cain ranged into the gap to make two relatively difficult catches look Gold Glove-caliber easy, and Omar Infante put on a defensive clinic at second base. While the Royals were peppering the outfield with bloop hits, the Orioles couldn't get anything to drop.

Yost constantly makes reference to the eighth inning of the AL wild-card game, when the Royals rallied from a 7-3 deficit against Jon Lester and the Oakland Athletics to forge extra innings, as the big jumping-off point in Kansas City's postseason. When Salvador Perez drove in the winning run, it gave the Royals a sense of confidence that they belong on this stage and they're equipped to handle whatever October throws their way.

"That game did a lot for us," Hosmer said. "It really broke us into postseason baseball. If anybody had nerves going into that game, it definitely helped a lot."

The Royals are a lot of things, but nervous isn't one of them. Pitcher Yordano Ventura refers to Yost as "Nedyo." The follicly impaired Raul Ibanez jokes about how great Hosmer's hair is. And when someone sticks a camera, a microphone or a notebook in Dyson's face, he can't resist speaking his mind. Maybe in a quiet moment, a veteran teammate sidles up and tells him it might be wise to tone down the rhetoric. But no one puts the clamps on him to temper his enthusiasm. Yost has come to believe that it's best to simply let his players be themselves. That approach applies across the board, and it has brought out the best in his club.

"We're playing our best baseball at the absolutely best time, and I think anything is possible," Butler said. "I'm not saying I would have [predicted] us winning 'X' amount in a row. But it doesn't exactly shock me, either. If we go out there and play our game each day, we're capable of doing anything."

With the possible exception of actually losing a game. You can call the Royals blessed, or "plucky," or an opportunistic team that happened to get hot just when the games mattered most. Sometime very soon -- perhaps as soon as Wednesday -- you'll be calling them the 2014 American League champions.