The Kansas City Royals stole their way to a 12-inning victory over the Oakland A's in the AL wild-card game. They powered their way past the mighty Los Angeles Angels with an emphatic three-game sweep in the divisional round.
There's no way they are going to be intimidated by the Baltimore Orioles.
"We're not afraid of those guys," Royals ace James Shields said Sunday night. "We're going to go out there and play our game — but obviously, we're going to worry about that tomorrow."
On this night, there was celebrating to do.
Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing double in the first inning, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each homered and the wild-card Royals finished off the Angels with an emphatic 8-3 victory in the AL Division Series.
Now, the scrappy team with the unorthodox manager, popgun offense, dynamic defense and lights-out bullpen will head to Baltimore for the AL Championship Series on Friday night.
"I was nervous. I'm a nervous wreck. I just can't show I'm a nervous wreck," Royals owner David Glass said. But it is great. I'm so proud of this bunch. They've grown up."
The same club that was once so far out of the division race that folks in Kansas City had turned their attention to football season has gone on a tremendous tear, painting the entire city blue in the process. They've back in the postseason for the first time since 1985, and even Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks they might be sticking around a while.
"They're going to be a tough team to beat in this tournament," he said.
The power-hitting Angels, 98-64 in the regular season, became the second team in the divisional era that began in 1969 to have the best record in the majors and get swept out of the playoffs, according to STATS. In no small coincidence, the Royals dealt the same humiliating fate to the New York Yankees in the 1980 ALCS.
Stalking around the mound amid an electric atmosphere, Shields lived up to his "Big Game James" billing. TheRoyals' ace gave up homers to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but otherwise held in check a suddenly punchless Los Angeles lineup
Shields was helped, too, by diving grabs by outfielder Lorenzo Cain on back-to-back plays. All told, the highest-scoring team in baseball managed six runs in the entire series.
"You don't go in with any badge saying you won the most games," Scioscia said, "and you're certainly not going to get any points for that going into the playoffs."
Kansas City showcased great glovework in every game, especially by its fleet outfielders. In this one, Cain's catches in the fifth inning preserved a five-run lead.
The Royals coasted the rest of the way to their seventh straight postseason win dating to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series. George Brett, the star of that team, watched from an upstairs suite and raised his arms when ace closer Greg Holland fanned Trout for the final out.
"We feel like we belong, that we can play with anyone and that's always a good feeling," Cain said. "If we continue to do what we did tonight and let that carry over into Baltimore, I think we can definitely make this thing last."
Right through the World Series? Nothing seems unreasonable at this point.
Their game Sunday night almost seemed easy the way things have been going. Kansas City played a 12-inning thriller against Oakland in the wild-card game, and a pair of 11-inning games in Los Angeles before returning home to a raucous, adoring crowd on Sunday night.
Trout staked his team to a first-inning lead, but Angels starter C.J. Wilson quickly got into trouble. He loaded the bases for Gordon, whose double made it 3-1.
Sensing the game already slipping away, Scioscia turned in vain to his bullpen.
The Royals kept the pressure on, and even plodding designated hitter Billy Butler got in on the act, stealing second base to another roar. It was his fifth career steal and first in two years, but it typified the way the Royalshave been winning this postseason.
Dazzling pitching, daring baserunning and some dogged determination.
"They were just up there trying to put the ball in play," Wilson said. "Then they went into damage mode and started swinging for homers. They're hot right now. That's what happens."
By the sixth inning, the Angels — their high-priced offense having fizzled and pitching having failed them — were slumped over the railing of their dugout. They spent the rest of the night bundled up against the October chill, periods of rain making their night miserable.
But hardly putting a damper on thousands of Royals fans.
"We just beat the Angels. We played a perfect series. We're running on a high," Butler said. "We're playing aggressive. We've got nothing to lose."
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