Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
For all the shortcomings Kansas City endured before the All-Star break, a stellar second half reminded a home run-thirsty audience what small-ball can do.
The Royals can run. They can push a bunt. They can hit for average (only Detroit was better among American League teams.) Forget about homers, Kansas City didn’t need them to end a 29 year postseason drought, or in stunning Oakland Tuesday night.
Theirs is a simple philosophy: get em’ on, get em’ over, get em’ in. Perfect against a fading A’s team, inauspicious when facing the Los Angeles Angels.
Jumping on Mike Trout’s shoulders wouldn’t have been enough to win the AL West, especially when he notched a career-high 184 strikeouts. A reinvigorated bullpen thrived, role players flourished when starters suffered injuries, and rookies carried the swagger of veterans.
It was the success the Angels’ front office envisioned when Albert Pujols signed on; success that’s placed Los Angeles seven victories away from the World Series. The next challenge comes with an inexperienced Royals’ team.
Pujols and David Freese led St. Louis to a world championship over Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson’s Texas Rangers three years ago. Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar each played roles in the Angels’ 2008-2009 postseason runs. Half of Los Angeles’ everyday players have tasted October baseball.
Raul Ibanez is Kansas City’s only notable with playoff experience- the same Ibanez who floundered in three short months as a Halo- and he’s not even on the ALDS roster. That doesn’t mean the Royals are bound to fail, but it does speak to the importance of fielding veterans.
Ibanez is credited with saving the season after delivering an enlivened speech shortly after the All-Star game. He finished the season with a .188 average and a menial two home runs. Words can only do so much.
When a game is on the line one can’t always expect a Salvador Perez– who was 0-for-5 prior to his game-winning single two days ago- to deliver. Tuesday’s win didn’t come from experience or leadership. It was sheer luck. It was the Athletics’ monumental collapse coming full circle, despite manager Ned Yost’s ineptness.
Yost said as much when explaining why an untested Yordano Ventura– who threw 73 pitches two days earlier-was used instead of Wade Davis or Kelvin Herrera. For the record, Yost said he wanted someone who could “bring the gas.” A few innings earlier, Yost called a double-steal similar to what the Angels’ did to Jon Lester days earlier. The Royals’ egregious error in judgment ended with Eric Hosmer tagged out at home.
Mike Scioscia isn’t the league’s longest tenured manager because he wants to “bring the gas.” Scioscia’s managed long enough to trust his relievers. Joe Smith and Huston Street carry 18 years’ Major League service between them and Kevin Jepsen has been in Anaheim long enough to remember the 2009 ALCS. They spun through the wringer long before Royals relivers made it past Triple-A.
Kansas City’s on a remarkable run. They nearly upended Detroit for the AL Central crown and reassured baseball purists that a wild card play-in game isn’t such a bad idea. It gives scrappy teams hope. Another chance to prove themselves. One last chance at the Fall Classic.
In Kansas City’s case, one last chance comes and goes in Anaheim.