Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
No, you’re not reading the top of Dayton Moore’s "people I love and will cherish forever" list. You’re reading the names of the two men who have led the Kansas City Royals to the doorstep of the American League Championship Series.
Hosmer’s two-run home run broke a tie in the 11th inning, lifting the Royals to an eventual 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. It was nearly identical to the scenario from 24 hours prior, when Moustakas hit the game-winning homer in the 11th inning to win game one. With the victory, Kansas City now leads the series at a decisive two games to zero.
The Royals are now one win away from eliminating the team that posted the best record in all of baseball this year. As well all predicted, Hosmer is now 6-11 with four walks, four runs scored, and three RBI in his three playoff games.
All season long, people had chirped for the demotion or benching of Moustakas and Hosmer. The two "golden boys" drafted by Moore in 2007 and 2008 have certainly gone through growing pains throughout their careers thus far. Despite showing flashes of occasional brilliance, inconsistency has plagued them in their careers to date. And, of course, the two men once considered to be the biggest question marks on the team are now icons in Royals playoff history.
While Moore has taken criticism for his refusal to hold his first two first-round draft picks accountable, Ned Yost’s decision to start Yordano Ventura was widely talked about around Kansas City this week. The flame-throwing rookie threw 74 pitches in just four shaky innings on Sunday, and then was thrown into a two-on, no-out fire in the Wild Card game on Tuesday, eventually surrendering a go-ahead three-run home run. Some doubted his abilities, while others wondered if the young rookie would lack confidence after the sixth-inning disaster.
On Friday night, Ventura answered all of the doubters’ questions with a decisive "no." He tossed seven innings of one-run ball, scattering five hits and matching that total with five strikeouts. He threw 95 pitches, 22 of which reach triple digits, including a whopping 102mph three times. He continued to keep his composure, keeping the Angels hitters off balance and inducing ground ball outs. He certainly didn't look like a rookie making his first career playoff start.
Kansas City took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on an Alex Gordon RBI single. The Angels would tie it in the sixth on a two-out single by Albert Pujols. From there, the teams combined for just one hit until Lorenzo Cain led off the 11th with a leadoff single, and Hosmer immediately followed that up with his two-run blast.
Moore has assembled a team built on speed and defense. The latter was especially impressive in this contest, yielding three double plays, all of which came at crucial times.
Wade Davis worked through the eighth inning, but not without some major help from his defense. Jarrod Dyson entered the game at the start of the inning as a difference replacement, and he watched as Davis immediately gave up a leadoff double to C.J. Cron. Pinch runner Colin Cowgill took over at second base, and after a Chris Ianetta flyout, he attempted to tag up and advance to third. Dyson snagged the fly ball and fired to third, putting the ball right on the glove of Moustakas, who placed the tag on Cowgill in time. The double play turned the inning around, and essentially ended the scoring threat.
Jason Frasor worked through the heart of the Angels’ order in the ninth, and Brandon Finnegan (1-0) worked a scoreless tenth to earn the victory, which was the first of his major-league career. He too was picked up by his defense with a remarkable double play, as Hosmer snagged a grounder from Josh Hamilton and started an athletic 3-6-3 twin-killing.
That set up Cain's infield knock and Hosmer's blast. Kansas City added an extra insurance run when Alex Gordon walked, stole second, advanced to third on an error, and scored on Salvador Perez' infield single. Mike Trout continues to be neutralized by Royals’ pitching; he went 0-4 to drop him to zero-for-eight in the series. He was struck out by Greg Holland to end the game, who worked around a two-out error to earn his second save in as many nights.
Matt Shoemaker started for the Angels, and provided a quality start by working six superb innings. Kelvin Jepsen (0-1) took the loss after surrendering three runs in the pivotal 11th inning.
The Royals’ bullpen in the series: nine innings, two hits, seven strikeouts, and an ERA of 0.00.
Three amazing stats:
1. In the Royals’ three postseason games, they have stolen 11 bases. Opponents have zero on one chance, which was an eye-opening play in the first inning of tonight's game, where Perez gunned down Trout by at least 10 feet. (Courtesy of ESPN’s Buster Olney)
2. Trout's stolen base attempt was the first time all season that anybody has tried to steal off of Yordano Ventura. Maybe the fact that he hit 100 on the radar gun on the pitch Trout was thrown out on has something to do with it.
3. The Royals are the first team in MLB history to open the postseason with three consecutive extra-inning games. They are also the first team in playoff history to win three straight extra-inning contests.
The two teams are off on Saturday; the Royals will go for the series sweep on Sunday in front of a home crowd. James Shields gets the ball for Kansas City, and the Angels will counter with left-hander C.J. Wilson.
Royals fans have been waiting for Hosmer and Moustakas to turn into the All-Star caliber players that Moore believes they’re capable of becoming for years. While they may not be there with numbers quite yet, there’s no denying that the clutch moments the two have provided in the last two games will be forever enshrined in Royals history. For a team that has waited so long to get to this point, it’s only appropriate that arguably the two most hyped players in team history come through with the decisive plays.