The Kansas City Royals can seemingly do no wrong.
“Big Game James” Shields gives up his customary first-inning home run to the previously hitless Mike Trout and the Royals are behind the Los Angeles Angels 1-0 before the frenzied sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium has had time to get comfortable Sunday night.
No problem. Not with the suddenly slugging Royals.
Alex Gordon, who had been all Judy and no Punch in September, did what he does best and drove a three-run double to left field to evaporate the lead in the bottom of the inning and put the Royals up two.
Then Eric Hosmer, whose power light finally has gone off, improves the lead to 5-1 two innings later with a piercing opposite-field homer.
Before the night is over, No. 9 hitter Mike Moustakas hits his second homer in three games, Lorenzo Cain pieces together his highlight film for his Gold Glove candidacy and, incredibly, Billy Butler — BILLY BUTLER !! — of all people steals a base, that after he had chugged home from first base on Gordon’s first-inning double as he now thinks he’s Speed Do II.
The Royals ambushed the Angels so quickly and had the game so under control by the fourth inning that I think the crowd was emotionally drained. They packed so much punch early in the game, Kansas City fans took off the next few innings in anticipation for the postgame celebration.
It didn’t have the drama of the victory over Oakland, that walk-off masterpiece that started this amazing week. This celebration almost seemed subdued compared to the two-comeback win over the A’s. After all, like Barry Sanders says, act like you’ve been there before, which is what the Royals were feeling Sunday.
The Royals are the hottest thing going. Dating back to the regular season, they now have won nine of their last 11 games, which is just a blip compared to their 24-of-30 sizzling stretch that put them in this position in the first place.
Their usual suffocating pitching is being augmented by an offense that is imitating the homer-happy Baltimore Orioles, their opponent in the upcoming ALCS. Four homers in three games for the Royals is like hitting the lottery, and they were attained by the supposed Golden Boys, Hosmer and Moustakas, for whom the start of their careers have been somewhat disappointing, especially for the Mendoza-Line hovering Moustakas.
Hosmer and Moustakas were groomed to be the cornerstones for this franchise for the next 10 years, joining other home-grown products such as Butler, Gordon and Salvy Perez. They also play with a spirit that has been infectious. Going to a Royals game is like going to a college football game. There’s a lot of high-fiving and funny hand gestures after a big play, not to mention the hat-doffing that comes when Cain or any of the other outfielders make an amazing play, which has been commonplace.
The hard-playing Royals are more and more catching the imagination of a nation that’s been waiting for a new team to emerge, one with some pizzazz. There will be no Yankees or Red Sox representing the American League in the World Series. Either the Royals or the Orioles will need directions because they haven’t traveled to one for a long time.
I’m sure there are many in the country pulling for the Royals. They are the former lovable losers, the underdog, the champion of the little guy. A lot of Royals are becoming household names after toiling in anonymity to everyone except for those of us in America’s heartland. Fans are turned on by the Royals’ style, as they don’t sit back and wait for a three-run homer, instead pinging the ball all around the park and running the bases like unbroken colts. They take chances and have a flair for the dramatic. Who wouldn’t like this team?
The Orioles are the polar-opposite. They bludgeon teams in their tiny ballpark with the infamous warehouse in right field. Get a couple of runners on and then homer. That’s their brand of baseball.
But these Royals may not be denied. They took care of Oakland, which had the best record in baseball for the first half of the season. They swept away the Angels, who had the best record for the entire season. They’ve won close games and now a blowout. They have an incredible bullpen and, as much as it’s a tired cliche, they apparently don’t realize they’re an uninvited guest.
Check the list now. They’re invited. They may soon be the guest of honor.