The Kansas City Royals have done it — defeated the Baltimore Orioles in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Royals weren’t expected to make it to the World Series, but their throwback style of baseball, their never-say-die attitude, and their ultimate team spirit allowed them to close out the series in the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals got out to a 3-0 lead in the series, making the sweep of the Orioles — a feelgood story in their own right — a distinct possibility. The Royals had come into Game 4 with 7 straight postseason victories, and the home crowd was positively amped. Royals baseball, for so long a seeming afterthought, was not only on the national stage… it was galvanizing the nation, as America caught Royals fever.
The clinching Game 4 was bound to be yet another crowning moment in Royals history. The home team got out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, rocking the raucous home crowd. Eric Hosmer, so clutch for the Royals during this fantastic season, grounded into a fielder’s choice to first, driving in a run.
A second run scored off a Baltimore error on the same play. Baseball fans who believe in luck understood, perhaps, then and there that the Royals would be a team of destiny. A World Series team.
From there, the question became one of whether or not the Royals could maintain their advantage. The Orioles have no shortage of scrap themselves, and got a run to cut the home team’s lead in half. By the top of the 4th, it looked like this game, like Royals games historically, would be predicated on grind-it-out baseball. A leadoff walk to Adam Jones put the go ahead run on base with nobody out. It didn’t matter. A strikeout, then a 6-3 double play, and the Royals retained their advantage going into the bottom of the inning.
It was as if the crowd knew destiny was on their side.
The Orioles threatened again in the top of the 6th, forcing KC to go to the pen. With two outs, Baltimore had runners on the corners. The tying run just 90 feet away.
And a hush fell over Kauffman as the fearsome Nelson Cruz came to bat. A scorching line drive, caught by the second baseman.
And the crowd went wild as the sun faded from the field, representing the dying of the Orioles’ light. The 7th inning came and went without scoring. The Orioles had just six outs to get a solitary run, or their season was done.
The top of the 8th saw Wade Davis give up a two out single. The next batter: a big swinging strike on a 97 MPH heater. The next pitch was rocked to third; the throw out was without incident.
And the Royals were three outs away from glory. They tasted victory, and they went big. A double off the wall by Billy Butler, and a pinch runner to ensure the insurance run would come through. Alex Gordon at the plate, and Kansas City knew what was up. Power. Speed. Fundamental baseball. That is what the Kansas City Royals are all about. It seemed like a fait accompli.
Then Gordon struck out, chilling the red-hot, raucous crowd. By the time it got to two outs in the inning, with runners on the corners, it was clearly the most important out for the Orioles of the year. A last chance to keep the game as a one run nailbiter. Britton for the Orioles ran up a 2-0 count, and Mike Moustakas had the hitter’s count… but could do nothing with it. The count went even, the batter spoiling pitches foul, only to meekly pop up to shallow right.
The Orioles had their 3, 4, and 5 hitters up in the top of the 9th. Imagine the pressure. Imagine the feeling Royals players and fans, who had waited so long for this moment, this tantalizing instant three decades in the making.
It is what professional sports is all about.
A leadoff walk stopped the “Let’s Go Royals” chant cold, and the ghosts of seasons past peeked from around the corner, with Nelson Cruz up at the plate. Cruz hit into a fielder’s choice. Delmon Young swung at air for the second out. Three strikes away…. a grounder to third… and 29 years of frustration ended. One of the biggest moments in KC Royals history, with fireworks sounding, the crowd rocking, and the Royals in the World Series!
8 postseason games. 8 postseason wins.
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