Wednesday, October 1, 2014
After 29 consecutive years of missing the playoffs, the Royals captured their first postseason victory since Game 7 of the 1985 World Series on Tuesday night, defeating the Oakland A's 9-8 in 12 innings in one of the craziest, most entertaining American League wild-card games you're ever going to see.
The Royals overcame three deficits and finally prevailed with a two-run rally in the bottom of the 12th inning, capped off by a two-out RBI single by catcher Salvador Perez off former Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel.
Credit the Royals for this: They stuck with their offensive identity in this game. They were going up against a tough pitcher in Oakland ace Jon Lester, who entered Tuesday's action with a 2.11 ERA in 11 career postseason starts. The A's went 2-5 against Kansas City during the regular season, but Lester was the starting pitcher in each of the two Oakland victories.
The A's had the right man on the mound, but the Royals prevailed thanks to their ability to manufacture runs with speed. Kansas City stole a league-best 153 bases during the regular season, and on this night, they tied a Major League record by swiping seven bases in a postseason game. They also successfully executed four sacrifice bunts.
Remarkably, the seven stolen bases came from seven different players: Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Colon, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Terrance Gore.
Dyson had perhaps the biggest steal of them all in the ninth inning. The Royals trailed 7-3 after seven innings, but they scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to get close at 7-6. In the ninth, pinch-hitter Josh Willingham led off with a bloop single and was lifted in favor of pinch-runner Dyson. After one of the aforementioned sacrifice bunts, Dyson found himself on second base with one out. Moments later, in a gutsy move with the season on the line, he stole third and put himself in position to score the tying run on Aoki's deep fly to right field. The stolen base allowed the Royals to tie the score, force extra innings and, ultimately, extend their season.
The stolen base also played a key part in the 12th-inning rally. Kansas City trailed 8-7 after allowing a run in the top of the inning, but erased the deficit when Eric Hosmer tripled and scored the tying run on an infield single by Colon.
Colon then came through with the second-most important stolen base of the evening, getting himself in scoring position to set the table for Perez's game-winning hit.
Defense is not a strong point for Oakland. In fact, the A's were the worst defensive club among the five AL playoff qualifiers. They have excellent starting pitching, but if an opponent can put some pressure on them and force them to execute defensively, they cannot. The Royals proved that with Tuesday's win.
The loss finishes an epic collapse for the A's, who had a 66-41 record the first four months of the season. But they slumped to a 22-33 mark since Aug. 1, and they did not clinch a berth in the wild-card game until the last day of the regular season.
The Oakland offense struggled mightily down the stretch of the season, but it was not their bats that caused them to lose to Kansas City. Designated hitter Brandon Moss clubbed two home runs and drove in five runs, and left fielder Sam Fuld reached base three times Tuesday, quieting critics who said before the game that Oakland manager Bob Melvin was making a mistake by not including late-season acquisition Adam Dunn in the lineup.
The A's scored plenty of runs, but they could not slow down Kansas City's small-ball attack. Oakland is going home, and the Royals are moving on to the American League Division Series, where they will face the Los Angeles Angels in a five-game set that starts Thursday night.