It took the Kansas City Royals being the Royals again to tie up the best-of-five American League Division Series at 2-all, sending it back to the madhouse that is Kauffman Stadium for the decider on Wednesday.
The Royals had stepped out of their comfort zone to try and trade homer-for-homer with the fence-busting Houston Astros on Monday, but all that did was put them behind the 8-ball heading into the eighth inning at the Minute Maid bandbox, 6-2.
Once the Royals decided to put down the barbells and reverted to their true identity of putting the ball in play, they paper-cutted a five-run eighth inning to grab a 7-6 lead, then an Eric Hosmer 2-iron pushed it to 9-6 in the ninth, leaving it to Wade Davis to send the crowd home grumbling.
Now it’s up to Johnny Cueto, in what likely will be his final Royals game if they don’t win on Wednesday, to spin a gem if they’re to advance on to play either Texas or Toronto.
For seven innings Monday, the Royals were simply futile as their undisciplined approach could barely get the ball out of the infield. I’m sure everyone was like me, knowing Houston pitcher Lance McCullers would set up the Royals with fastballs, then throw something soft way off the plate. Through the first seven innings, seven times the Royals fanned on a curveball.
But the eighth inning conjured up memories of last year’s Royals wild-card game with Oakland with well-placed hits that kept the line moving. The only difference was it didn’t come against their longtime menace Jon Lester, but against an Astros bullpen that had teetered throughout the last month of the season and on this day collapsed.
The Royals need to learn from this game. All their runs in their Games 1 and 3 losses came via the longball and the only two runs through seven innings on Monday were courtesy of a Salvy Perez dinger. Once they started hitting the ball where it was pitched, the result was a frenzied-hitting run-fest that has to put some serious doubts in the Astros’ head.
Houston has shown the ability to win at The K this year — they’re 2-3 — but the Royals have been in this situation before. When their backs are against the wall, they seem to be at their best. This was testing the limits, but now it comes down to just one game and there can be just one winner.