With the first berth to the Fall Classic in 29 years awaiting them were they to win this afternoon, the Royals wasted little time getting on the board. Following a one-two-three first for Game Four starter Jason Vargas, the Royals offense immediately went to work against the steely-eyed right-handed Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez.
Alcides Escobar got things started with a grounder up the middle. The grounder chopped past the mound and hit square on the bag at second base. Escobar reached without a play on the ball, though any play would likely have been in vain, as Escobar regularly legs out that play.
With a runner on, the strikingly handsome Gonzalez lost control of a pitch and plunked Norichika Aoki in the hip. Aoki yelped in pain as he went to the ground, but he quickly remembered that no man as handsome as Miguel Gonzalez could have meant him harm and wincingly made his way to first base.
Despite being one of the Royals' hottest hitters (in more ways than one), Lorenzo Cain opted to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance Escobar and Aoki to third and second. Eric Hosmer followed this up with a grounder ripped right back to his Oriole counterpart Steve Pearce. Pearce delivered a bullet right back to Baltimore catcher Caleb Joseph but Joseph was unable to secure the ball in his sweeping motion to make the tag. Never really making its way into Joseph's glove cleanly, the ball collided with the sliding Alcides Escobar and skittered away into foul territory, allowing Aoki to follow Escobar across the plate for the second Royal run of the inning.
Miguel Gonzalez eventually got out of the first without any further damage being done, and from that point the Royals mounted little in the way of offense against the dreamy Gonzalez and the men who came in to relieve him--Darren O'Day, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton.
For his part, Jason Vargas limited the Orioles' attack to a single meaningful shot. In the top of the third, Ryan Flaherty sent a meaty ball left up in the zone screaming into stands down the line in right field. The Royals two-run lead was cut in half with one swing of the bat.
Other than that isolated pitch, the Orioles spent the first five innings feigning minor threats, but ultimately coming up empty. Of course, the Royals defense played a part in the suffocation of the Orioles' batsmen, the most obvious case being this highlight reel catch by the inimitable Alex Gordon:
To start the sixth though, Vargas managed to walk Jonathan Schoop--a noteworthy feat that Royals pitchers somehow managed to accomplish twice in this four game series despite the fact that his 2.7 BB% was the second-lowest of any player in baseball with at least 250 PAs--on five pitches. After retiring, Nick Markakis without allowing Schoop to advance to second, Ned Yost decided to go to turn to the fantastically filthy triumvirate at the back of pen.
Kelvin Herrera quickly induced a pop-up that traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 feet in its arc while never making it more than about 70 feet from where Steve Pearce put the ball in play at home plate. Adam Jones followed Pearce's pop fly with a flare single to shallow right field. With two outs, Schoop was running on contact and went first-to-third, and suddenly the tying run was a mere 90 feet from home plate.
ALDS hero and MLB equivalent of Robert Horry Delmon Young stood in the box with a chance to keep Baltimore's postseason run alive. He got a hold of the first pitch he could handle from the flame-throwing righty Herrera and ripped a screamer to the right side of the infield. Directly into a patch of sunlight. And into Omar Infante's expectant glove.
Threat and inning over.
Herrera came back out to pitch the seventh--as it is his inning--and did so with the ease we've come to expect from him. Wade Davis followed with a top of the eighth in which he had to work around a two-out single that Nick Markakis earned in a tough at-bat, but this is the 2014 version of Wade Davis and work around it he did.
With the Royals offense having gone mostly dormant in the six innings following their two-run first, Billy Butler smashed a double off the base of the wall in deep left-center. Terrance Gore entered as a pinch-runner, but Alex Gordon struck out looking, failing to advance Gore on the first out of the inning. Salvador Perez hit a grounder to Ryan Flaherty at second, who turned and took the only play he had, the one to first. With Gore at third and two outs, Buck Showalter elected to walk Omar Infante to set up the lefty-lefty match-up between closer Zach Britton and Mike Moustakas. After falling behind 2 - 0, Britton battled back and finally dispatched of Moustakas with the sixth pitch of the plate appearance, inducing a pop-up to shallow right that Flaherty caught with ease.
Nursing a mere one-run lead, Greg Holland came in to face the trio of Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, and Delmon Young. With the crowd a deafening cacophonous mass of blue-clad Royals fans thirsting for the first taste of World Series baseball in nearly three decades, Holland jumped ahead 0 - 2 with Adam Jones at the plate before walking him on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. This is the point of the column in which I am contractually obligated to tell you that lead-off walks are always a bad thing, yada-yada-yada. Nelson Cruz followed with a grounder back to Holland, who turned and delivered a nearly errant throw to second, where Escobar miraculously held onto the ball while maintaining contact with the bag. Unfortunately, only the lead-runner was nabbed in the play and the tying run was still at first, albeit with one out. Alejandro De Aza came in to pinch run for Cruz with Delmon Young at the plate. Fortunately Greg Holland does not care who he's facing, and he struck out Delmon Young on the fifth pitch of the at-bat.
J.J. Hardy proved to be no match for Holland either, and the Royals and fans alike erupted into a frenzied celebration that many of us have never seen other than on years old video footage in which players who are well into their 50s and 60s were the ones mobbing each other on the Astroturf at Kauffman Stadium.
For the second straight day, the Royals topped the Orioles by the score of 2 - 1.
For the eighth straight game this postseason, the Royals were victorious.
For the eleventh straight postseason game in franchise history, the Royals dispatched of the opposition.
With each win, it seems increasingly impossible that this team is capable of losing. The improbability of this postseason cannot be put into words. The Royals waltzed through the American League side of the playoff bracket, winning in ways that no one watching this team during its low points this season--and there were many--could have envisioned. The offensive potency shown early in the series was rendered unnecessary for the second straight day as the Royals' pitching staff shut down the powerful Oriole offense with apparent ease upon returning to Kansas City.
Lorenzo Cain was deservingly awarded 2014 ALCS MVP.
The Royals--yes, the Kansas City Royals--are headed to the World Series.
Is this real life?