Wednesday, October 22, 2014
That fact bodes well for the San Francisco Giants, who cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday in the opening game of the 2014 Fall Classic.
How did the Giants cool off the red-hot Royals, who had won nine consecutive games dating back to the regular season? They did it by scoring early and allowing their ace left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, to do his job.
Bumgarner fired seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He fanned five and walked just one. His only mistake was a two-out homer by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez in the bottom of the seventh inning, and by that point it didn't matter because the Royals were hopelessly behind.
San Francisco jumped out to a 3-0 lead in top of the first inning. Hunter Pence's two-run homer off Kansas City ace James Shields highlighted the rally.
You wouldn't have expected Pence to be the guy to haunt Shields. Coming into Tuesday's play, Pence was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Shields. However, his home run was the biggest hit of the game, and he also had a double to start a two-run rally in the fourth inning that increased San Francisco's lead to 5-0.
It's no secret San Francisco has the edge in postseason experience in this series. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012. For many of these Kansas City players, this is their first time in the playoffs.
That difference in experience showed up in this game, particularly in the bottom of the third inning when the Royals had their best chance to get to Bumgarner. Down 3-0, Kansas City placed runners on second and third with nobody out after Omar Infante reached on a Brandon Crawford error and Mike Moustakas doubled.
It's the kind of situation the Royals have taken advantage of throughout the postseason, but it didn't happen this time. Bumgarner escaped the jam unscathed by getting overanxious Kansas City hitters to swing at bad pitches. Perhaps the combination of being on the big stage and facing an early deficit caused the Royals to press.
It sure looked that way as Alcides Escobar struck out swinging on a fastball up and well out of the zone for the first out. Nori Aoki also fanned after he could not check his swing on an 0-2 breaking ball that bounced in front of the plate. Bumgarner tried a similar strategy against the next hitter, but to Lorenzo Cain's credit, he laid off those pitches and worked a walk to load the bases for Eric Hosmer.
The Kansas City first baseman swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base to end what would be the Royals' last and best chance to get back in the game.
I've heard some analysts criticize Hosmer for offering at that first pitch. I won't be among them. I believe in swinging at the first hittable strike in RBI situations. Sometimes, that's the best pitch you're going to get. Hosmer got an 86 mph cutter from Bumgarner that was middle to outer half. It was a hittable pitch. The only criticism I have of Hosmer is he may have tried to pull that pitch when he would have been better served to try to drive it to left field. But, I don't fault him for swinging.
The real disappointment for the Royals in this game was the poor performance of Shields, who was knocked out in the fourth inning and allowed five earned runs. The Giants went 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the Kansas City ace, who is now just 1-3 with an 8.26 ERA in his last six postseason starts.
MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac and others need to stop with the obnoxious "Big Game James" references when discussing Shields, because he's obviously been struggling lately.
For an actual "Big Game" pitcher, look no further than Bumgarner. The San Francisco ace has started three World Series games in his career. He's 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA in those outings. That's clutch.
The Royals will try to even the series Wednesday in Game 2 behind youngster Yordano Ventura. Veteran Jake Peavy will be on the mound for the Giants.
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.