Unbeaten in their first Major League Baseball play-off appearance since 1985, the Kansas City Royals advanced to the World Series by defeating the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 on Wednesday.
The Royals, who won their only World Series title 29 years ago, became the first Major League Baseball team to win their first eight play-off games in a season by finishing off a four-game sweep of the Orioles in the best-of-seven American League final.
“It has been awesome,” Royals slugger Eric Hosmer said. “But we’re not done yet.”
Kansas City will play host to the National League winners, either the St Louis Cardinals or San Francisco Giants, in Gamd 1 of the best-of-seven championship final next Tuesday.
“We’re going to try to make this season even more special,” said Royals outfielder Alex Gordon. “It has been an amazing run. We’re playing pretty good baseball.”
Should the Royals win their World Series opener, they would equal the all-time longest major league play-off multi-year win streak – 12 games set by the New York Yankees between 1927-1932 and matched by them in 1998-1999 – even with a 29-year gap between wins three and four.
The Royals captured the 1985 World Series by winning the final three games to defeat Missouri state rivals St Louis in the maximum seven games.
Since then, Kansas City fans had suffered the longest drought of any major league team without a play-off game, but were rewarded for their patience this October when the Royals beat Oakland in the wildcard game, swept the Los Angeles Angels in the best-of-five division series and dispatched an Orioles squad seeking their first World Series berth since winning in 1983.
“It’s not like something we didn’t do,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It was more like what they did.”
It was the first time the Orioles had ever been swept in a play-off series, having dropped two one-run decisions on the road and a pair of two-run decisions at home with both games level after eight innings.
“We don’t feel like we played bad. They just played better,” Baltimore’s JJ Hardy said. “Four games and they were all close ones.”
Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain was named the Most Valuable Player of the series after going 8-for-15 at the plate, scoring five times and driving in another run while making several spectacular diving catches to deny Baltimore base hits.
Kansas City took a 2-0 lead in the first inning after Alcides Escobar singled and Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki took first when hit by a pitch from Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez.
Lorenzo Cain advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and then Hosmer hit into a fielder’s choice. A throw to home plate on the play tried to stop Escobar from scoring, but instead Escobar knocked the ball from the grasp of Baltimore catcher Caleb Joseph.
The ball rolled to the backstop and gave Aoki enough time to run across home plate as well to give the Royals a 2-0 advantage.
“Same old story,” Gordon said. “Good pitching. Good fielding and we scratched out a win.”
Baltimore answered in the third inning when Ryan Flaherty blasted a solo home run into the right-field stands, trimming the Orioles’ deficit to 2-1.
A pitchers’ duel ensued, but Baltimore managed to put a runner in scoring position in the sixth, Jonathan Schoop walking and taking third on a two-out single by Adam Jones.
Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz, the major league home run leader, came to the plate but lined out to second base to end the Orioles best late threat.
Royals relief pitchers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland silenced the Orioles over the final 3 2/3 innings to seal the victory.
“It has been unbelievable,” said Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. “It has been a different guy every night. This team just never quits.”
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