CINCINNATI -- Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas was pacing around the American League dugout at the All-Star Game late Tuesday night when AL manager Ned Yost finally decided to call his number. The circumstances were something short of compassionate.
Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman -- he of the triple-digit fastball and hailstone-sized diamond earrings -- was on the mound for the National League. And when Moustakas stepped to the plate, it was time for Chapman to rear back, grunt and inflict some lefty-on-lefty menace.
Chapman threw four straight fastballs -- at 102, 103, 102 and 103 mph. And just like that, Moustakas was the victim of a swinging strikeout and lugged his bat back to the bench.
"Good morning. Good afternoon. Goodnight,'' Moustakas said, who laughed when asked if Yost had something personal against him to put him in such an impossible spot.
"I thought like we had a good relationship,'' Moustakas said, shaking his head in mock remorse.
The Royals could afford to take a lighthearted approach as they packed their bags for their charter flight out of Cincinnati. They'll begin a four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Friday with the best record in the American League (52-34). And as a group, they acquitted themselves quite nicely in the American League's 6-3 victory at Great American Ball Park.
Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain contributed two hits and merited consideration for the game's MVP award before it went to Mike Trout. Shortstop Alcides Escobar added a single off Clayton Kershaw in the AL's two-run fifth inning, and Wade Davis, one of baseball's premier setup men, threw a scoreless inning before Glen Perkins came on to wrap it up in the ninth.
Sure, Kelvin Herrera didn't get a chance to pitch, and Salvador Perez struck out against Madison Bumgarner in a World Series Game 7 rematch. But it was still a nice haul for a Kansas City team that hasn't been known for Midsummer Classic heroics through the years.
Cain became the first Royals player to collect two hits in an All-Star Game since Bo Jackson went 2-for-4 in the 1989 game. Cain's and Escobar's three combined hits tripled the total for the Kansas City franchise since Bo's big day in Anaheim in '89. Before Tuesday night, Perez's single at Citi Field in 2013 was the only All-Star Game knock by a Royals player in a span of a quarter-century.
The collaborative effort put a positive spin on events from a few weeks ago, when the Royals were assailed as a threat to the integrity of All-Star voting and the possible second coming of the "ballot-stuffing'' Cincinnati Reds of 1957. When it appeared that eight Kansas City players might make the All-Star starting lineup, media outlets and fans in other cities lined up to either question the voting system or take shots at Royals rooters for blind homerism and over-the-top enthusiasm. Major League Baseball even took some time to assess the viability of the process and rule out the possibility of any funny business.
Ultimately, sanity prevailed, and the Royals were left with a healthy contingent rather than 30 percent of the AL roster. Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios fell by the wayside, and Alex Gordon had to sit out the game with a groin injury. But when Yost added Davis and Herrera to the AL pitching staff and Moustakas won the Final Vote in online balloting, KC wound up sending six players to Cincinnati.
Davis, a big, stoic right-hander, is about as dominant as it gets these days. He arrived in Cincinnati with a 0.46 ERA, and only because he allowed a run in an 11-10 win over Toronto on Sunday did it swell from 0.24.
Davis' most impressive sequence Tuesday came against Adrian Gonzalez, when he threw back-to-back pitches that the Dodgers' first baseman missed by a total of roughly four feet.
"Adrian is a great hitter, but I think Wade Davis has made a lot of great hitters look bad this year,'' said Toronto catcher Russell Martin, who was behind the plate at the time.
Cain entered the game with a pronounced desire to record a hit, a stolen base and a defensive Web Gem. He fell a little short of his goal, but still came away with an experience that was everything it was cracked up to be.
"I had a blast,'' Cain said. "There was a lot going on over the past few days, I will admit. I'm not used to it, but I enjoyed all of it. It's something I'll remember forever.''
In the back of their minds, Yost and the Royals can take extra gratification in knowing that Tuesday's victory will mean World Series home-field advantage for the American League representative in October. They hope -- and have ample reason to expect -- it will ultimately be them.
The All-Star Game was a fun diversion and a just reward for Kansas City's 2014 feel-good story and superb play over the first 3½ months. Now that the fun and games are over, it's time for the real chase to begin.