Sports

MLB PLAYOFFS

Royals sweep aside Angels, advance to ALCS

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) reacts against the Los Angeles Angels after the final out of the top of the sixth inning in game three of the 2014 ALDS baseball playoff game at Kauffman Stadium. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) reacts against the Los Angeles Angels after the final out of the top of the sixth inning in game three of the 2014 ALDS baseball playoff game at Kauffman Stadium. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)

KANSAS CITY, MO. - 

The Kansas City Royals came to these playoffs with a hard-earned reputation for hustle and heart, pitching, speed and defence. Admirable qualities, but surely that wasn’t going to be enough, not against the team that had steamrolled its way through the second half of the season to seize the best record in baseball.

But at the end of a three-game sweep in this American League Division Series, it was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that didn’t measure up. In Sunday night’s finale, the Royals blew the Angels away with a 8-3 victory that featured all the attributes that have impressed and confounded opponents all season but also embodied something new and different.

It almost doesn’t seem fair that, to go with all their small-ball tendencies, Kansas City has added some real thunder to bolster their first World Series bid in 29 years.

All through this season of revival in Kansas City, the Royals won games with their legs, their arms and their gloves. In the playoffs, they have added a hefty dose of thump to their repertoire and that trumps everything.

They won the first two games with extra-innings home runs by Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. In the clincher Sunday night, the same two young stars both went deep again.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in winning the game,” said Moustakas. “It doesn’t matter how we do it. We’ll bunt, we’ll hit and run, we’ll do whatever we can. Tonight we were able to hit a couple of big homers.”

At no time in this series did L.A. match the energy and intensity of the Royals, nor their ability to manufacture runs. When you throw this surprising power surge into the Royals’ mix, the Angels had no answer.

“Coming into this game, we were hitting .162 as a team, they were hitting .141,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “The difference was the two big extra-inning home runs. That gave us the edge. Tonight the power was huge again.”

Kansas City had its ace, James Shields, working on full rest to pitch this one, and even though he wasn’t at his best he made some big pitches when he needed to over six innings. His teammates staked him to a substantial lead early and then the Royals’ lights-out bullpen brought it all home without incident over the final three innings.

The Royals and the Baltimore Orioles will now get four days off before they begin their best-of-seven AL Championship Series in Baltimore on Friday.

“We just stepped up at the right time,” said Yost. “I’ve never seen this group of kids so confident on the big stage. It’s been such a thrill to see them take their game to the next level.”

For the Angels, the end came so quickly, their demise was a total shock after winning 98 games this year.

“It stings,” said manager Mike Scioscia. “We’re all feeling it. We expected more.”

There was a sense right off the bat that the Angels weren’t going to go quietly, indicated by a long, loud, belated entrance by Mike Trout into the offensive fray. He clocked a Shields’ offering about nine miles to left to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead. It was his first hit of the series and his first post-season hit ever.

“I sure didn’t want to wake up the beast over there,” said Shields. “Sometimes when you give up a homer in the first inning, it can give them new life. But our guys did a great job of answering the bell right back.”

In the bottom of the inning, starter C.J. Wilson gave that run back and then some. Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain each leaked one-out singles through the infield. After Eric Hosmer was called out on strikes, Billy Butler walked to load the bases.

By this time, reliever Vinny Pestano was already up in the bullpen but manager Mike Scioscia waited one more batter. One batter too late, as it turned out. Alex Gordon cleared the bases with a double to the wall in right centre, a hit just far enough for Butler to chug all the way around from first and barely beat the throw.

And so the death march began. Seven relief pitchers followed Wilson to the mound with varying degrees of success but it was mostly an exercise in futility. The Royals were not going to be denied.

In the third, with lefty Hector Santiago on the mound, the game started to get away on the Angels. Aoki walked leading off and two batters later, Hosmer put a charge in a 2-0 fastball and sent it into the centre field seats for his second homer of the series to put the count at 5-1.

Albert Pujols cut the lead to three with a leadoff homer in the third. Later in the inning, with runners at first and third, Shields made probably his biggest pitch of the night, striking out C.J. Cron to keep it a three-run game.

Two more Kansas City runs in the fourth, including a leadoff Moustakas’ home run, ran the lead to five runs, with the Angels drowning in a sea of mediocre relief pitching.

In the top of the fifth, Shields started to struggle but his world class defence picked him up. With one out, Kole Calhoun singled. Mike Trout walked. Pujols then stroked a line drive into the gap in left-centre but Lorenzo Cain came out of no where in centre field to make a head-long diving catch, picking the baseball inches above the grass to force the runners to hold. Then Howie Kendrick hit the same kind of ball, a little too the right of dead-centre and Cain made a second diving catch to end the inning, snuffing out any stray ideas the Angels might have had about a comeback.

“You’re probably looking at a one or two-run game if both those hits drop in, but they didn’t,” said Scioscia.

Kelvin Herrera blew away the Angels in the seventh with a steady stream of fastballs that ranged from 99 to 101 on the radar gun. The Angels touched Wade Davis for a run in the eighth and Greg Holland closed out the ninth without incident.


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