Sports

MLB Playoffs

Moustakas home run powers Royals past Angels in Game 1

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas watches his home run against the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Oct. 2, 2014. (USA Today)

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas watches his home run against the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Oct. 2, 2014. (USA Today)

ANAHEIM - 

The Los Angeles Angels found a way to deal with the speed of the Kansas City Royals, but they had no answer for their power.

Power? The Kansas City Royals? Surely we jest.

This is the only team in major league baseball that didn’t hit 100 home runs over 162 games, but third baseman Mike Moustakas hit the biggest one of his life in the top of the 11th inning Thursday night to give the Royals a 3-2 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

Leading off the 11th after his team had dodged bullets in three consecutive innings to stay alive, Moustakas hit the first extra-inning post-season home run in Royals history off L.A. reliever Fernando Salas.

Kansas City closer Greg Holland came on in the bottom of the inning to take out the Angels in order to grab the early advantage over the team that had the best record in baseball this season.

The two teams had matched runs in the third inning and again in the fifth before they stymied each other until the Moustakas homer put Kansas City ahead to stay.

In the six meetings between the two teams this season, the Angels had outhomered the Royals 12-2. Both Los Angeles runs Thursday were scored on solo homers, one by Chris Iannetta and the other by David Freese.

The Moustakas bomb made a winner out of reliever Danny Duffy, the seventh Kansas City pitcher of the night. Salas was the fifth L.A. pitcher to appear.

“I was just looking for a base hit, a way to get on base,” said Moustakas. “I knew Jarrod Dyson was on the bench and ready to come in and steal a bag if I got on so I was just doing anything in my power to get over there for him.

“I was looking for a fastball. I got one fastball then he threw me another one and I didn’t miss it.

That’s the biggest homer I’ve ever hit so far. It felt really amazing.”

This young Royals team has now played two playoff games and won both of them in extra innings.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” said Moustakas. “When we were playing Oakland the other night, it was up and down the whole game. Tonight it was a tense pitchers battle, but with our team it’s someone different every night.”

Game 2 of the best-of-five series goes Friday night in Anaheim before the scene switches to Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium on Sunday and possibly Monday.

Los Angeles starter Jered Weaver cruised through the first two innings and then fanned the first two hitters he faced in the third, making effective use of his 60-something mph curveball.

With two out in the third, though, he walked the No. 9 hitter Moustakas.

Then, with Alcides Escobar at the plate, he threw one too many of those loopy curveballs and Escobar scalded it to left field. A younger, more nimble Josh Hamilton would have had it in his back pocket but the 2014 version was about two feet short, the ball caroming off the wall for a double. Moustakas scored without a play.

In the bottom of the inning, after taking out the first eight hitters in order, Vargas served up a 2-1 pitch that Angels catcher Chris Iannetta belted over the wall in left field to tie it at 1-1.

The Royals took the lead in the top of the fifth, taking advantage of a rare moment of defensive weakness by all-world centre fielder Mike Trout

Alex Gordon led off the inning with a ball hit in the left-centre field gap. Trout appeared to lose it for a split-second in the lights and that was just long enough for the ball to find the turf for a double.

Sal Perez then smashed a ball to left that looked as if it was going to leave the yard, but Hamilton made the catch with his back to the wall. Gordon would have probably tagged and gotten to third anyway, but Hamilton made sure of it by falling on his butt after making the catch. Omar Infante then delivered the run with a sacrifice fly to centre.

The Angels got that run back immediately in the bottom of the fifth when David Freese belted a 1-1 pitch over the fence in left field for his eighth career post-season home run.

The Royals got everything they could have wanted or expected out of Vargas. He gave up just three hits over six innings. Unfortunately two of those hits left the ballpark but he left the game after six innings with the game tied 2-2.

Vargas had struggled down the stretch, losing his last three decisions. In his final four starts, including a no-decision in his last appearance Sept. 24, he pitched 18 innings and allowed 18 earned runs and his opponents a combined average OPS of .880.

“Vargas pitched one heck of a ball game, gave up the two home runs but nothing else. We needed him to get us six innings and he did it in fine fashion,” said Royals manager Ned Yost.

He was lifted to start the seventh inning Thursday, but hard-throwing Kelvin Herrera lasted only one hitter, walking David Freese on five pitches before the training staff came out, perceiving that something was wrong physically.

Herrera was taken out because of right forearm tightness and left-hander Brandon Finnegan came on with nobody out and pinch-runner Gordon Beckham on first base. Aybar sacrificed Beckham to second base before Finnegan got Hamilton on a groundball to second base for the second out.

Hard-throwing Wade Davis was summoned to face C.J. Cron, who hit a ball that Aoki turned into an adventure in right field before making a shoestring catch for the third out.

Davis got into a jam in the bottom of the eighth inning with a pair of walks, putting Angels at first and second with one out. He got Albert Pujols on a pop-up, the struck out Howie Kendrick to get out of it.

Again in the ninth inning, the Angels had the winning run at second base with one out but couldn’t push it across. Former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand Tim Collins struck out Hamilton and another former Blue Jays pitcher, Jason Frasor, got the final out on a groundball on the infield.

“Our bullpen has been great all year long,” said Yost. “At times we’ll bend a little bit but very seldom do we break. We wouldn’t be here without this bullpen. This is the type of game that we play. We don’t score a lot. We try to get one or two or three runs and be one or two ahead by the time we get to the seventh inning and then those guys come in and shut it down for us.”


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