Almost an hour had passed, and the postgame party had moved from the field to the Kansas City clubhouse, where victory champagne was once again flowing. Yet as sheets of rain fell at Kauffman Stadium, thousands of celebrating Royals fans refused to leave.
They had waited 29 years to soak in moments like these.
“This is a special time in the city right now and they’re enjoying this as much as we are,” winning pitcher James Shields said. “This is the best atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of.”
Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing double in the first inning, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each homered and the wild-card Royals finished off a three-game sweep of the mighty Los Angeles Angels with an emphatic 8-3 victory Sunday night in the AL Division Series.
The scrappy team with the unorthodox manager, popgun offense, dynamic defense and lights-out bullpen will open the AL Championship Series against the Orioles beginning Friday night in Baltimore. Kansas City went 4-3 against the O’s this year.
“I’ve never seen this group of kids so confident on the big stage,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s really fun to see their development and watch them come into the postseason and just really take their game to the next level.”
The power-hitting Angels, 98-64 in the regular season, became the second team in the divisional era that began in 1969 to have the best record in the majors and get swept out of the playoffs, STATS said. In no small coincidence, the Royals dealt the same humiliating fate to the New York Yankees in the 1980 ALCS.
Stalking around the mound amid an electric atmosphere, Shields lived up to his “Big Game James” billing. The Royals’ ace gave up homers to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but otherwise held in check a suddenly punchless Los Angeles lineup
Shields was helped, too, by diving grabs by center fielder Lorenzo Cain on back-to-back plays. All told, the highest-scoring team in baseball managed six runs in the entire series.
“Anything happens in the playoffs,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t go in with any badge saying you won the most games, and you’re certainly not going to get any points for that going into the playoffs.”
Kansas City showcased great glovework in every game, especially by its fleet outfielders. In this one, Cain’s catches in the fifth inning preserved a five-run lead.
The Royals coasted the rest of the way to their seventh straight postseason victory dating to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series, the last time they were in the playoffs. George Brett, the star of that team, watched from an upstairs suite and raised his arms when ace closer Greg Holland fanned Trout for the final out.
“We feel like we belong,” Cain said, “that we can play with anyone.”
The Royals are certainly proving it.
Kansas City played a 12-inning thriller against Oakland in the wild-card game, and a pair of 11-inning games in Los Angeles before returning home to a raucous, adoring crowd.
Trout staked his team to a first-inning lead, but Angels starter C.J. Wilson quickly got into trouble. The left-hander with the $16 million price tag this season gave up consecutive singles and a four-pitch walk in the bottom half to load the bases for Gordon, whose slicing two-out double gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead.
Sensing the game already slipping away, Scioscia immediately marched to the mound and turned the game over to his bullpen. It didn’t fare a whole lot better.
The Royals kept the pressure on, and even plodding designated hitter Billy Butler got in on the act, stealing second base to another roar. It was his fifth career steal and first in two years, but it typified the way the Royals have been winning this postseason.
Dazzling pitching, daring baserunning and some dogged determination.
“They were just up there trying to put the ball in play,” Wilson said. “Then they went into damage mode and started swinging for homers. They’re hot right now. That’s what happens.”
After swiping seven bases and playing small-ball against the A’s, the club that hit the fewest homers in the regular season pounded out four long balls against Los Angeles.
Moustakas hit the first of them in the 11th inning of the opener, Hosmer hit the second in the 11th inning the next night, and both of them went deep to finish off the sweep.
Hosmer’s two-run shot came in the third inning. Moustakas connected in the fourth.
By that point, the Angels – their high-priced offense having fizzled and pitching having failed them – were slumped over the railing of their dugout. They spent the final five innings bundled up against the October chill, periods of rain making their night miserable.
But hardly putting a damper on thousands of Royals fans.
“Everyone knows how long it’s been since we’ve been in the postseason, and you can tell because of all these people out here,” Hosmer said. “They’ve got our backs on every pitch, and we’re feeding off the energy. To do this in front of our home crowd, it couldn’t be any better than coming and celebrating with all these people out here.”
Royals RHP Kelvin Herrera pitched a scoreless seventh inning. He left Thursday night’s series opener after five pitches with a strained forearm.
The Orioles beat Detroit 2-1 on Sunday to finish off their series sweep. They are back in the ALCS for the first time since 1997.