The Royals' undefeated postseason continued Tuesday night as they beat the Orioles 2-1 to take a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. Kansas City is now 7-0 this postseason and one win away from the World Series. The Orioles, meanwhile, are down 0-3 in a best-of-seven series, a spot that just one team in major league history has ever come back from, that being the 2004 Red Sox, who did so against the Yankees in that year’s ALCS. Here are three take-aways from Tuesday night’s Game 3.
1. Ned Yost’s pro-active pitching change
Royals manager Ned Yost caught a lot of heat for his hair-brained decision to bring rookie starter Yordano Ventura in to face an opposite-handed slugger with two-on, none out and Kansas City nursing a one-run lead in the sixth inning of the single-elimination Wild-Card Game, and has been derided for his in-game management in general this season. However, since the Royals advanced to the Division Series, Yost has done little to fuel those fires, and his bullpen management in this series has been exemplary.
Yost impressed in Game 1 by using “seventh-inning guy” Kelvin Herrera and “eighth-inning guy” Wade Davis for two innings each starting in the sixth to hold a tie long enough for the Royals’ bats to break it (which they did, right on schedule, in the top of the tenth). He impressed again in this game by going to his bullpen to start the sixth inning despite the fact that his starter, Jeremy Guthrie, had retired nine of the last 10 men he had faced, allowed just one run on three hits in the game and had thrown just 94 pitches.
It was the right move to make because Guthrie, despite the generally positive results, had given up a lot of hard contact, was pitching on 17 day’s rest and was due to face the heart of the Orioles' order (starting with Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce, the last of whom broke an 0-for-11 slump with a ringing double in the second inning and had hit a screaming liner to third in his second at-bat) for the third time. Instead of Guthrie facing those three again in a tie game, Jason Frasor took the mound and retired them in order.
The Royals then rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the inning, allowing Yost to turn to his Big Three of Herrera, Davis and closer Greg Holland, each of whom also worked a 1-2-3 inning. Together, Guthrie, Frasor, Herrrera, Davis and Holland retired the final 16 Orioles to come to the plate in the game, with the last man reaching being Ryan Flaherty via a two-out walk in the fourth.
2. The Royals’ defense
It’s worth noting that the out Jones made against Frasor leading off the top of the sixth came due to the most spectacular defensive play of what was another outstanding fielding performance by the Royals. On that play, Jones hit a foul pop-up into the exterior Dugout Suite seating beyond the third base dugout only to have Mike Moustakas climb over the railing and make the catch while falling into the crowd and briefly disappearing below field level.
That was the most exciting defensive play of the game, but it wasn’t the most important. That was probably yet another ranging catch by, you guessed it, Lorenzo Cain with one out and men on first and second in the top of the second. The Orioles had just taken their first lead of the series on doubles by Pearce and J.J. Hardy after which Flaherty had walked on four pitches. Nick Hundley followed by hitting a blast into the right centerfield gap, but Cain, as he has done so often this postseason that we’ve come to expect it, tracked it down, making the catch without so much as a dive.
Cain later made a similarly ranging catch on Pearce for the final out of Frasor’s inning in the sixth and, after being shifted to rightfield in favor of Jarrod Dyson, another near the wall in right field for the penultimate out of the game. Meanwhile Moustakas made a full-extension dive to catch Pearce’s liner in the fourth. Eric Hosmer made a spectacular diving stop and scramble to the bag on a ball hit by Cruz ahead of the two second-inning doubles, and Omar Infante ranged to the other side of second base to get the first out of the seventh on a groundball by Hardy. All were outstanding plays that helped limit the Orioles to one run in a game in which the Royals scored just two.
3. Baltimore’s positives
It’s hard to find positives for the Orioles in this series, but at least they finally got a lead in Game 3, their first of this series. The Orioles went up 1-0 in the top of the second. That lead lasted all of two innings, and they never got another one. The other positive for Baltimore in this game is that they only needed one relief pitcher as repurposed starter Kevin Gausman worked 2 2/3 perfect innings in relief of Wei-Yin Chen, needing just 33 pitches to do so. Unfortunately for Baltimore, he entered the game with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, and the first batter he faced, Billy Butler, hit a sacrifice fly to leftfield that drove in pinch-runner Dyson with what proved to be the winning run of the game.