Royals one win from World Series, lead ALCS 3-0
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Breaking down the AL Championship Series Game 3 from Kauffman Stadium:
Box score: Royals 2, Orioles 1, Royals lead series, 3-0.
The final: The Royals played small-ball to perfection once again, scoring their runs on a ground out and a sacrifice fly – and getting flawless relief pitching to win their seventh consecutive postseason game this season and 10th in a row overall.
In his first postseason start, Jeremy Guthrie allowed one run in five innings and the combination of Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland kept the Orioles scoreless the rest of the way to put the Royals within one win of their first World Series since 1985.
State of the Series: With the rainout on Monday, both managers had an opportunity to go back to their Game 1 starters on full rest for Game 4. However, both chose to stick with their original Game 4 starters.
The Orioles will go with Miguel Gonzalez (10-9, 3.23 ERA), who didn’t pitch in the Division Series as the Orioles swept the Tigers in three straight. It will be his first game action since his final start of the regular season on Sept. 28. Since then, he’s thrown a couple of bullpen sessions and live batting practice, but nothing compares to pitching under game conditions.
With the advantage of being ahead in the series, the Royals have the benefit of giving their top two starters – James Shields and Yordano Ventura – an extra day of rest. Manager Ned Yost said his decision may have been different if the Royals hadn’t won the first two games in Baltimore. For Game 4, the Royals will have left-hander Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71), who started Game 1 of the Division Series against the Angels and gave up two runs in six innings.
Game 3 pivot point: With the score tied in the bottom of the sixth and runners on the corners with one out, Orioles manager Buck Showalter replaced starter Wei-Yin Chen with rookie Kevin Gausman.
In need of a strikeout or a double-play ground ball, Gausman faced perhaps the slowest member of the Royals, designated hitter Billy Butler.
Knowing a fly ball even medium-deep to the outfield would score the speedy Jarrod Dyson from third, Butler won the battle – lifting a 98 mph fastball to left fielder Alejandro DeAza, whose throw never had a chance to get Dyson as the Royals took a 2-1 lead.
Man of the moment: For the first time in the series, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas didn’t hit a home run in extra innings. But he made his presence felt on defense with a pair of spectacular plays.
In the top of the fourth, Moustakas robbed Steve Pearce with a diving grab of his scorched line drive for the first out of the inning. Pearce scored the Orioles first run two innings earlier when he laced a double to left, so keeping him off the bases was important with J.J. Hardy, who doubled in Pearce in the second, up next.
Then, Moustakas turned in the defensive play of the game – possibly the series – in the top of the sixth. Adam Jones lifted a high foul pop toward the seats beside the Oriole dugout.
The ball seemed to be heading toward the seats, but with a 12 mph wind blowing from left to right, the ball kept drifting back toward the field of play. Moustakas never gave up as he ran toward the dugout suite seats behind third base. He reached into the seats and caught the ball while tumbling over the low railing, conjuring memories of one Derek Jeter.
Manager’s special: Much of what Royals manager Ned Yost has done in the postseason has followed a similar script. But no one can argue with the results.
The first step in the Yost Plan is to use a pinch-runner for right fielder Nori Aoki in the late innings. And when Aoki predictably singled to lead off the sixth, Yost called on Jarrod Dyson to run.
Although Dyson didn’t try to steal second, he went from first to third on Eric Hosmer’s single and came home with the go-ahead run on Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly.
With the one-run lead in hand, Yost went to his reliable bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland to close out yet another victory.
Needing a mulligan: The Orioles took their first lead of the series on back-to-back doubles by Steve Pearce and J.J. Hardy in the top of the second inning. Both hits split the Royals outfield, a visible reminder of the difference in sizes of the two ballparks in this series.
With a chance to get to Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie early, Ryan Flaherty drew a walk to put runners on first and second. However, Guthrie was able to get out of the inning with no further damage, retiring Nick Hundley on a fly ball to center and Jonathan Schoop on a foul out to first.
What you missed on TV: Saxaphonist Michael Phillips had one of the longer versions of the national anthem you’ll hear, but in this case it was entirely justified. As his smooth jazz version of the Star Spangled Banner came to the penultimate line, he held the last note of “the land of the free” for roughly 30 or 40 seconds – which gave the KC Flight Team just enough time to pass over Kaufman Stadium for the closing notes for “the home of the brave.”
GALLERY: ALCS – ROYALS vs. ORIOLES