You know…one of these days, this run has to end, right?
Then again, maybe not. It’s certainly not showing any signs of ending any time soon.
Kansas City used a late-inning push to sneak past yet another playoff opponent, defeating the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 in game two of the ALCS. For the second straight series, the Royals have gone into a hostile environment against a favored opponent and punched their opposition right in the mouth - twice.
Facing Baltimore's submariner Darren O'Day to start the ninth, Omar Infante led off the frame with an infield single. O'Day was lifted immediately for Orioles closer Zach Britton, and Yost countered by replacing Infante with pinch runner Terrance Gore, who was bunted over by Mike Moustakas in a surprising move. On the next pitch, Alcides Escobar shot a liner down the right-field line, plating the go-ahead run on a double. Two batters later, a single by Lorenzo Cain provided the Royals with a key insurance run.
With a decisive 2-0 series advantage, the Royals will have the opportunity to clinch the ALCS at home by winning two of the next three. They are 6-0 in the playoffs this year, and have now won nine straight postseason games dating back to 1985.
Kansas City carried the momentum from last night right into Saturday’s game, immediately jumping on Bud Norris for two first-inning runs. With one out, a single by Nori Aoki and a double from Cain put two in scoring position for Eric Hosmer. The first baseman hopped on the first pitch, blooping a single into shallow left field to plate the first two runs of the game.
Baltimore responded by loading the bases via three Yordano Ventura walks in the second frame, but the fire-throwing rookie escaped with minimal damage, yielding only a sacrifice fly to Caleb Joseph.
In the third inning, the Royals ignited a two-out rally when Cain reached on an infield single and advanced to third on a single by Hosmer. Billy Butler then roped a double down the right-field line, plating Cain and giving the Royals their two-run cushion right back. However, it didn’t last long, as Adam Jones clobbered a two-run home run in the home half of the inning to even the score at three runs apiece.
Kansas City answered the long ball with one of their own, as Moustakas uncorked a fastball from Norris just over the right-field wall. It was his fourth home run of the postseason, tying the club record set in 1980 by Willie Aiken. Once again, the advantage wouldn’t last long, as Baltimore tied the game once again in the bottom half of the fifth on an RBI fielder’s choice from Nelson Cruz.
For the second straight night, neither starting pitcher provided a quality start. The Orioles’ Norris, like Chris Tillman’s performance a night ago, lasted just 4.1 innings. Norris allowed nine hits and four runs, striking out three batters.
Ventura, meanwhile, worked 5.2 innings, giving up five hits, three walks and four runs. He had the opportunity to complete the sixth inning, but gritted in pain after delivering a pitch to Joseph. Ned Yost, Dave Eiland and the head trainer all rushed to the mound, wasting little time before removing the rookie from the game. He was later diagnosed with "right shoulder soreness," and is considered day-to-day.
As Royals fans recall, this isn’t the first time this season that Ventura has had an injury scare. He was removed from a May start against the Astros with elbow tightness; his velocity was way down in that game, terrifying fans for 24 hours until an MRI came back showing no structural damage. He only ended up missing only one start. Low velocity once again plagued him on Saturday – after throwing 70 pitches of at least 97 mph last week against the Angels, he reached that mark just 17 times on Saturday.
Brandon Finnegan was suddenly thrust into the game mid-at bat in relief of Ventura, and he recorded the last out of the sixth. Kelvin Herrera worked in and out of major trouble in the seventh; he allowed an infield hit to lead off the inning after he flat-out missed the bag on what should have been a 3-1 groundout. The Orioles would load the bases with one out, but Herrera got out unscathed after getting Steve Pearce and J.J Hardy to fly out.
Wade Davis (2-0) worked through the eighth inning, picking up the win for the second consecutive night. Greg Holland closed out the bottom half of the ninth for his fourth save in six playoff games, fighting through the heart of the Orioles’ order.
For Lorenzo Cain, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s first child earlier this week, an amazing week continued with another enormous performance. After going 4-5 on Saturday, the center fielder is now hitting .750/.800/1.000 (6-8 with two walks) in the ALCS. He also made yet another terrific diving catch, robbing J.J. Hardy with an unbelievable extension.
If history is any indication, this series could end in a delightful way for Royals fans. Of the 24 teams to begin a best-of-7 series up two games to zero, 21 of them (87%) advanced to the World Series. Also, 22 of the last 28 teams to win game two of the ALCS advanced to the Fall Classic, which is both puzzling and rather random.
Four other amazing stats:
1. It has been 55 straight innings since the Royals closed a inning and trailed, dating back to the 8th inning of last Tuesday’s Wild Card game against the A’s.
2. Kansas City is the first team to win its first six playoff games in a season since the 2007 Colorado Rockies.
3. The Orioles hadn't lost consecutive home games since June 28-29 until yesterday and today.
4. Ned Yost is 6-0 in postseason play, and his 1.000 playoff winning percentage is the highest of any manager in baseball history.
Sunday will be a travel day for both teams, who will continue the series on Monday in Kansas City. Games three, four, and five will all take place at Kauffman Stadium; Jeremy Guthrie will get the ball for the Royals Monday night, and he will likely be opposed by southpaw Wei Yen Chen.
Update: Jeff Passan reported good news about the health of Yordano Ventura after the game:
Yordano Ventura: Tightness in shoulder on last three pitches. Pulled himself out. Says he doesn't think he needs MRI, can make next start.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 12, 2014
When asked after the game by Andy McCullough if he thought the series would be returning to Baltimore, Jarrod Dyson replied, "No, sir, I don't. And I don't think they do either."
The Royals are playing out of their minds. They're as confident as any baseball team the world has ever seen. They've put Baltimore in a massive hole, and they're not shy about admitting it. At this point, all that's left to do is finish the job.