Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
BALTIMORE _ Why are the Kansas City Royals where they are?
Well, the team that couldn’t hit homers — last in the majors — has outhomered the Baltimore Orioles the first two games of the American League Championship Series.
Outfielders Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Nori Ajoi made diving catches and then the Royals insert Jarrod Dyson as a defensive replacement!
Make no mistake … one big reason that the Royals are the fourth team in history to start post-season play with a 6-0 record is KC’s strike-throwing bullpen which has sawed off Orioles bats, leaving catcher Salvatore Perez’s left hand near numb.
Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland combined to work 3 1/3 scoreless, the Royals scored twice in the ninth for a 6-4 win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
Believe it or else the Royals have won nine straight post-season games dating to Oct. 23, 1985 when St. Louis Cardinals lefty John Tudor shut out the Royals in Game 4 of the World Series.
And believe it for sure, Your Toronto Blue Jays have the second longest active winning streak … one game … dating 21 years to Game 5 of the 1993 Series Oct. 21, 1993.
How is that for a marketing slogan for 2015 “Come see the team that hasn’t lost a post-season game in 21 years!”
But lest we forget the underdog Royals … who at times can look young and dumb, but they get it done. With the score tied 4-4 in the seventh first baseman Eric Hosmer fielded Nick Markaksis grounder and flipped to Kelvin Herrera covering. One problem, Herrera, failed to touch first.
“I was too excited,” said Herrera, 24. “I missed the bag with my foot. It was a mental mistake.”
He then walked Alejandro De Aza after falling behind 3-0 and it looked like his size 12s were still connected to the thinking bone in his noggin? Self-destruct time?
“It doesn’t really matter much what happens, the game does not speed up for him,” said Wade Davis, who worked two scoreless (four strikeouts, 18 pitches) innings in Game 1 win.
Herrera fanned the O’s No. 3 hitter on three straight pitches and after Nelson Cruz singled to left, he escaped with a pair of soft pop ups.
“Kelvin processes a lot, knows how to manipulate the ball — even at 100 MPH,” said Davis, after watching Herrera throw nine of 24 fastballs at either 99 or 100 MPHs. “He might be the best arm we have in the bullpen.
“The big thing is, this is the hardest working bullpen I’ve ever been around, nothing against other teams I’ve pitched with.”
Davis worked a scoreless eighth, less than 24 hours after putting up two zeros in his first two inning stint since May 29. Each instance he’d had a couple of days off after his multiple-inning outings.
An infield hit, a bunt, a double to score pinch runner Terrence Gore, an infield error and a single gave the Royals a two-run lead and manager Ned Yost gave the ball to Holland.
“The reason we are where we are is that we have played a lot close games and the reason we’ve done so well is that we’ve won a lot of them,” said Holland.
Can you wrap your head around the fact you are two wins from the World Series? “Still one game at a time,” said Holland.
How good has the Royals bullpen been this post-season?
Throw out the 1/3 of an inning starter Yordano Ventura worked in the tie breaker on one day’s rest and the regular relievers have combined for a 1.69 ERA (nine earned runs in 26 2/3 innings). The relievers are 5-0, walking 11 and striking out 31.
“I’m just a right-handed Scott Downs on this staff — 88, 88, 88,” said Jason Frasor jokingly. “In every close game, down one, up one, five days a week, these guys are the same. Nothing changes.”
Frasor is on the Royals active roster and warmed up Saturday. Downs is with the club has not been activated.
“Today, when Kelvin got out that situation, I was like ‘all right, here we are again,’” said Davis. “We’re going to get it done somehow. Either that or we’re going to play 19 innings.”
One shaky inning: There was only time when the young Royals looked out of control and out of their element in the first two games. With the score tied 5-5 in the seventh inning of Game 1, pinch runner Dyson stole second successfully but bounced off the back of the bag as O’s second baseman Jonathan Schoop applied a hard ‘get-off-my-bag’ tag. Cowboy Joe West called Dyson out as Dyson argued and looked for replay of a play which brought to memories the 1991 World Series when Minnesota Twins Kent Hrbek did a figure-four leg lock on Atlanta Braves Ron Gant for an out … Then Cain and Billy Butler were both called out on strikes … Outside of that it looked as if they were post-season regulars.
Writing ‘em up: Why were the Royals so successful pitching against the Los Angeles Angels. How did they hold Angels hitters to these numbers? Josh Hamilton was hitless in 13, Mike Trout was 1-for-11, Chris Iannetta 1-for-10, David Freese 1-for-8, Albert Pujols 2-for-12, and Howie Kendrick 2-for-13.
It’s all a matter of pitchers executing, but the Royals scouts Jim Fregosi, Jr., Alec Zumwalt and Dennis Cardoza scouted the Angels at the end of the season, filing detailed reports, giving pitching coach Dave Eiland a plan to give his pitchers.