Sports

MLB Playoffs

Royals rally in 12th inning to put down A's in crazy wild card game

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

The Kansas City Royals celebrate after catcher Salvador Perez hits a 12th inning walk-off single against the Oakland Athletics during the American League wild card game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Sept. 30, 2014. (PETER G. AIKEN/USA Today)

The Kansas City Royals celebrate after catcher Salvador Perez hits a 12th inning walk-off single against the Oakland Athletics during the American League wild card game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Sept. 30, 2014. (PETER G. AIKEN/USA Today)

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KANSAS CITY - 

When general manager Billy Beane went all in at the trade deadline, he raked in some of the best pitching on the market to add to his Oakland Athletics, at the time the team with the best record in baseball.

He was confident that it was all going to be worth it when he and his Athletics got to October.

Not “if” he got to October, but “when.”

Tuesday night, as the calendar was about to flip from September to October, his Athletics, so big and bold in July, fell about seven minutes and one run short at the end of a game that truly put the “wild” in wild card.

At 11:53 p.m. CDT, Salvador Perez singled down the left-field line, just inside the bag, to score pinch runner Christian Colon with the winning run in a 9-8 victory that had just about everything you might expect in a playoff baseball game.

The Kansas City Royals overcame a 7-3 deficit with four runs in the eighth and ninth innings, then after falling behind in the top of the 12th, scored twice in the bottom of the inning to win it, sending the stunned Athletics into the offseason wondering what just happened.

The Royals, who last appeared in the playoffs in 1985, will now face the Los Angeles Angels in a best-of-five American League Division Series.

“After getting done with the game like that, I think a lot of the guys on the team really still haven’t realized what happened as of right now,” said Eric Hosmer, who had three hits and was on base five times. “But we’re going to enjoy this one. We’re getting into L.A. late tonight. We realize we’re playing a team that had the best record in baseball, but it’s a five game series, and anything can happen. Like I said, we’re going to battle until someone sends us home. This team has got a lot of fight in them and this city has a lot of fight in it, and we’re just going to keep it rolling.”

The four-run comeback in the eighth and ninth innings was the key.

“Well, your mind wants to think it’s dire until our guys come in the dugout, and they didn’t think it was dire,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “They were like, let’s go, we’ve got this, let’s go, we can do this, we can do this, to a man. It was impressive to hear the confidence that they had in their voice and the intensity that they had in their voice and the will that they had in their voice, and when they came in, I’m like, yeah, they’re right. They’re not going to be denied.”

After the Royals tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, the Athletics scored a go-ahead run in the top of the 12th inning on pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo’s one-out single scored Josh Reddick with former Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor on the mound for Kansas City.

In the bottom of the inning, Hosmer tripled, then scored on Colon’s infield single. After Colon stole second base – Kansas City’s seventh stolen base of the game – Perez delivered the winning hit.

“Oh, man, it was a roller coaster ride,” said Hosmer. “Both teams battled back the whole night. For us to come back from a four run deficit late in the game like that, it was crazy. But this game just kept going back and forth, back and forth, both teams battled, and I think that’s what postseason baseball is all about.”

Oakland’s Brandon Moss hit two home runs in the game and drove in five runs but it was all for nothing. His second homer was a three-run shot off reliever Yordano Ventura in the five-run bat-around sixth inning for Oakland after Yost’s curious move to remove starting pitcher James Shields from the game.

With a 3-2 lead and runners on first and second base with nobody out in the sixth, Yost yanked Shields after just 88 pitches. Ventura, a hard-throwing starter all season, unaccustomed to pitching in relief, was clearly out of his element. He fell behind Moss and then grooved a pitch that Moss didn’t miss.

Shields’ nickname is “Big Game” and he’s called that for a reason. He’s mentally tough enough to handle a two-on, nobody-out jam. To stick Ventura into such an unfamiliar situation was nothing short of a panic move.

By the end of that half-inning, the Athletics had sent 10 men to the plate, scoring five times to take a commanding four-run lead and it turned out they needed every one of them.

Jon Lester, Oakland’s prized rental pitcher, struggled early, then pulled himself together. He gave up a run in the first inning, two in the third, then nothing after that until the eighth. He erased a dozen Royals in a row before giving up a two-out infield single to Omar Infante in the seventh.

But in that eighth, the Royals came storming back. They touched up Lester for a pair of infield singles and a walk before he was lifted for right-hander Luke Gregorson. All three inherited runners scored and Gregorson eventually had to strike out Perez and Infante in succession to escape the inning with the tying and go-ahead runs at second and third base. The Royals stole four bases in the inning but could not get the equalizer.

In the ninth inning, Josh Willingham, facing A’s closer Sean Doolittle, looped a pinch-hit single into right field. Pinch runner Jarrod Dyson went to second base on Acides Escobar’s sacrifice bunt then, with Nori Aoki at the plate, he stole third. Aoki then drilled a long fly ball to right that easily scored Dyson with the tying run.

As befits a baseball town that hasn’t seen a playoff game since ‘85, there was a raucous party atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium in the moments leading up to first pitch and for a few moments afterward. A night previous, the NFL’s Chiefs, who play across the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium, set a Guinness world record for crowd noise at a sporting event during their mugging of the New England Patriots, and the Royals fans were in the same mood.

Then Moss threw a temporary wet blanket over the festivities when he launched a two-out, two-run home run in the top of the first inning, redirecting a James Shields changeup 407 feet over the right-field fence. Moss circled the bases in a deathly silent stadium.

But the voices were back in the bottom of the inning when the Royals got two baserunners on for Billy Butler, who ripped a single into left field, scoring Aoki from second base. That set up a first-and-third situation with two outs. As Lester got ready to deliver the 1-2 pitch to Alex Gordon, Butler inexplicably broke off first base, stopped and got into a rundown. In the midst of that boneheadedness, Eric Hosmer tried to score from third and was easily thrown out by A’s first baseman Stephen Vogt.

Kansas City took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third inning, combining a leadoff single by Mike Moustakas, a sacrifice by Alcides Escobar, a Lorenzo Cain RBI double and a looping single into left field by Hosmer that hung up long enough for Cain to score without a play from second base.

Little did anybody know that this was only the beginning of a long, long evening that ended just before October began. The Royals are hoping to add to their fledgling legend as the month unfolds.


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