On Saturday evening, the Royals ran their postseason unbeaten streak to six games, beating the Orioles 6-4 at Camden Yards to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. A few quick points about the game as we await our on-location coverage.
1. Key moment: That's What Speed Do, Again
With the score knotted at 4 going into the top of the ninth, Kansas City's Omar Infante beat out a dribbler to the third base side of the pitching mound. Royals manager Ned Yost promptly replaced him with pinch-running specialist Terrance Gore, who in 14 previous regular and postseason games had batted just twice while going 8-for-8 in stolen bases and scoring five runs. With lefty Mike Moustakas at the plate, Orioles manager Buck Showalter replaced righty Darren O'Day with lefty Zach Britton, who was able to keep an eye on Gore while inducing Moustakas — who earlier in the game had hit his fourth home run, tops of any hitter this postseason — to give up an out via sacrifice bunt.
It didn't entirely matter. On the very next pitch, Alcides Escobar hit a double down the right field line, bringing home Gore with the go-ahead run. The Royals tacked on another when third baseman Ryan Flaherty erred in trying to field speedster Jarrod Dyson's chopper, sending Escobar to third, and then Lorenzo Cain brought him home with a single to left field, his fourth hit of the game.
2. Pitching Ugly
After getting just 4 1/3 innings out of Game 1 starter Chris Tillman and needing at least 18 pitches from four different relievers — Kevin Gausman, Andrew Miller, Britton and O'Day — the Orioles could have used a strong start from Bud Norris. They didn't get it. Norris slogged through a 23-pitch first and a 27-pitch third, and was up to 82 pitches through his first four innings. He departed after 90 pitches in 4 1/3 innings, having been peppered for nine hits (including Moustakas' homer) and four runs while striking out three. Fortunately for the O's, Brad Brach and Miller were able to combine for 3 1/3 scoreless innings before yielding to O'Day, whose strikeout to end the eighth brought to a close the Royals' record-setting 17-inning streak of getting at least one runner on base.
Yordano Ventura was only a bit better. After James Shields lasted just five innings in Game 1, with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland all topping 18 pitches in combining to complete the team's other five innings, the Royals could have used some length from the 23-year old fireballer. While he worked through a perfect 11-pitch first inning, he struggled with his fastball command thereafter, needing 27 pitches while walking the bases loaded in the second, and throwing just 51 strikes from among his 90 pitches while allowing four runs on five hits — including a two-run homer by Adam Jones — and three walks. Pitching from the stretch so often, he failed to muster his signature velocity. Via the PITCHf/x data at >BrooksBaseball.net, his average four-seam fastball was just 96.6, down from an MLB-high 98.3 mph during the regular season.
Worse, Ventura left the game mid-batter with what was later reported as tightness in his right shoulder. With two outs in the sixth inning, he threw two pitches to Caleb Joseph, the second of which was a 96 MPH fastball fouled straight back, and then was joined on the mound by Yost and the Royals' trainer. He was relieved by Brandon Finnegan, who yielded a single to Joseph before getting Jonathan Schoop to ground out.
As the seventh dawned, Yost ignored the matchup advantage he had with the lefty Finnegan due to face lefties Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza back-to-back to start the frame. Instead, he reverted to his bullpen template, calling upon Herrera, who induced Markakis to ground to first baseman Eric Hosmer, then got into trouble by making an error in failing to touch first base. He missed by about an inch. De Aza walked, and the Orioles went on to load the bases with one out before Herrera recovered to get Steven Pearce and J.J. Hardy to fly out. Davis worked around a two-out single while pitching a scoreless eighth, and then Holland did the same in the ninth before striking out Pearce to end the game.
3. Relentless Royals
The Royals set a record by getting on base at least once in each of the first 17 innings of this series — 10 in Game 1, seven in Game 2 — before finally going down 1-2-3 in the eighth against Miller and O'Day. In doing so, they eclipsed the previous mark of 15 innings, set by the 2002 A's.
For the third time in six games, the Royals got on the board in the first inning. While they ranked ninth in the AL in scoring during the regular season (4.02 runs per game), they were just 13th in the league in runs scored in the first inning. They’re first so far in this postseason, with six first-inning runs. No other team has scored more than two. Thanks to 10 third-inning runs, they've outscored opponents 17-8 over the first three frames, and 38-24 overall.