Dayton Moore has had a spectacular season. Nearly every one of his moves, from free agents signed last winter to mid-season trade acquisitions, has gelled for the 95-win Royals. All of these moves were made for one reason - to get Kansas City back to the World Series. On Friday night, one of his acquisitions sparked the Royals in a big way, leaping them one step closer towards that goal.
Edinson Volquez, pitching in the biggest game of his career, was splendid in the American League Championship Series opener. His offense backed him for enough run support in a 5-0 win for the defending league champion Royals, who snatched a quick 1-0 series lead.
Volquez came out of the gate firing, frequently hitting 97 miles-per-hour with his fastball. Amazingly, Volquez only threw one pitch clocked with that level of velocity all season long, yet with adrenaline flowing through his veins behind a deafening Kauffman Stadium crowd, he cranked up the heat and mixed it perfectly with a nasty arsenal of breaking pitches.
Kansas City had allowed its opponent to jump out to at least a 2-0 lead in its last four postseason home games, but Volquez changed that by allowing just two hits in six innings. His only real threat came in the sixth inning, when he walked Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to lead off the frame. With his pitch count nearing triple digits, Ned Yost trusted his starter to battle out of the jam, and he just did that. He first fanned super power-threat Edwin Encarnacion with a fastball up before working the count full to each of the next two hitters. However, Volquez locked down and got Chris Colabello to line out to left before catching Troy Tulowitzki looking at strike three. The sellout crowd erupted as Volquez fist-pumped his way off the mound.
In all, Volquez used 111 pitches. He walked four batters and struck out five. He threw 68 fastballs in all, but 55 of which were clocked at 95 mph or higher. The blueprint to beat the Blue Jays was laid out on Friday night - throw a lot of fastballs, but locate them well or else you're in for a bad night.
Offensively, Alcides Escobar lined first-pitch doubles in each of his first two plate appearances. His game-opening double was wasted when the next three Royals went down, but in the third inning, his extra-base knock came with Alex Gordon standing on second base after he doubled himself. The hit put Kansas City on the board, and it would double its lead two hitters later when Lorenzo Cain chopped a single to right to score Escobar.
In the fourth inning, Salvador Perez increased the lead with his third home run of the postseason. He walloped the first offering from Marco Estrada into the Sonic Slam seats. Kansas City led 3-0, and with Volquez dealing the way he was, that would be more than enough for the Royals.
The bullpen for Kansas City did its normal thing, creating a carbon copy of the team's strongest attribute from last year's World Series team. Kelvin Herrera worked one of the most brilliant innings in playoff history, firing nine pitches, all for strikes, and retiring the Blue Jays in order in the seventh with two strikeouts. Ryan Madson got into some trouble by putting two on with one out, but he escaped the threat to get the Royals through the eighth.
In the home half of the eighth, Escobar was hit by a pitch before Ben Zobrist reached on an infield chopper. Eric Hosmer then clobbered an RBI double off the right-center wall, missing a home run by mere inches. On the next pitch, Kendrys Morales drove in the fifth run of the game with a sacrifice fly.
The two insurance runs allowed Yost to rest Wade Davis. Luke Hochevar got the last three outs of the game. In all, four pitchers combined for a three-hit shutout.
Dating back to game five of Wednesday's ALDS, the Royals' pitching staff has combined to throw 16 straight scoreless innings. That's no small feat when it's coming against the Astros and Blue Jays, who hit more home runs than any other teams in baseball in the regular season.
For the second consecutive year, the Royals exit game one with a 1-0 series advantage. They'll look to double their lead with an afternoon contest tomorrow. Yordano Ventura and David Price will square off at 3:00 pm.
Kansas City is three games away from another World Series appearance, and after the way the pitching staff, the bullpen, and the Kauffman Stadium crowd acted on Friday night, confidence in the Royals is at an all-time high.