Six months have passed since the Royals last roamed Angel Stadium. They had arrived last year in the small hours of the first day of October, their heads still spinning and their skin still coated with the champagne sprayed after their delirious Wild Card game victory. It was in this park the Royals first showed they were not to be taken lightly.
On Friday night, with a 4-2 victory to remain unbeaten, the latest edition of the Kansas City Royals demonstrated why they intend to repeat last year’s feats. Their hallmarks remain intact, with suffocating defensive and a bullpen that logged three scoreless innings. It is the offense that gives this club such hope, a unit eager to flex its might in this series.
“It’s something you look at in the offseason when the schedule comes out,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “You know it’s going to be a fun series. Today lived up to every thing we thought it would be.”
Kendrys Morales became the sixth Royal to hit a home run this season. His solo blast in the sixth inning was his 43rd homer in this park that he called home for six seasons. An extra tally in the ninth provided more breathing room.
Jason Vargas tip-toed through the fierce Angels lineup by avoiding mistakes up in the zone and allowed two runs in six innings. He gave up five hits in all. The last was a solo homer by David Freese in the sixth. Manager Ned Yost turned to his bullpen, a group that has not given up a run in 11 innings this season.
Closer Greg Holland had collected saves in the past two days. Before the game, pitching coach Dave Eiland suggested the team rest Holland. Yost agreed and later referred to it as “common sense” not to overextend him.
So Jason Frasor handled the seventh, Kelvin Herrera took the eighth and Wade Davis collected the save. Hosmer executed a nifty pick of a low throw by Alcides Escobar to corral the third out in the eighth. Davis manhandled the Angels with a trio of strikeouts. His final pitch was a 97-mph fastball that darted to the outside corner of the plate to freeze outfielder Matt Joyce.
“I thought Wade did great,” Yost said. “I thought Kelvin did great. I thought Frasor did great. I thought the whole bullpen did a nice job.”
In short, the Angels could not overcome the Kansas City relief corps. The result felt familiar. On their last trip here, the Royals stunned the Angels, owners of baseball’s best record, by snatching a pair of extra-inning victories. Kansas City closed out the series in a romp at Kauffman Stadium in the third game.
The reminders of last season were not difficult to find. Vargas took the mound 190 days after starting game one. The Angels raised a sign to commemorate their American League West Division championship, but no signs denoting a deep playoff run. The Royals dashed that dream.
Inside his office, hours before the game, Yost downplayed the significance of the visit. Yost disdains sentimentality in public view.
“It’s all over,” Yost said. “I don’t come in here with fond memories. I come in here knowing that we’re facing a really, really good team. We’ll come in here and continue to play good baseball. I don’t think about last year much.”
His players were less reticent to admit their excitement. In the second game here, Hosmer crushed a game-winning home run in extra innings. He flipped his bat as the ball disappeared over the right-field fence Months later, he still recalls that night with relish.
“Those are moments you dream about as a kid,” Hosmer said. “To come back here, to be back at this stadium the first time since, is obviously pretty special. It’s going to make for a fun night.”
The fans here had not forgotten. They showered Hosmer with jeers during the pregame introductions and again when he came to bat in the first. Cain already stood at second base after a two-out double. On a 2-2 curveball from Hector Santiago, Cain broke for third. Hosmer stroked a groundball toward second base, where one of his oldest friends in baseball resided.
Earlier in the day, Yost presented Johnny Giavotella with his World Series ring. Giavotella played no role in the team’s October run, but he spent seven years in the organization, and he remains close with players like Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson. Now he presented his old club with a gift: He lunged across the dirt but could not glove Hosmer’s RBI single.
The Angels evened the score in the third. With Giavotella at first base, Kole Calhoun stroked a curveball into the right-center gap to tie the game. Vargas managed to limit the damage. After he walked Mike Trout, he received a favorable call from umpire Bill Miller on an inside changeup. Albert Pujols debated the called third strike, but the strikeout ended the threat.
Vargas concentrated on flooding the lower half of the strike zone. He did not intend to give the Angels chances to do damage.
“At times, it got me behind in some counts,” Vargas said. “But being down is definitely better than being up. We were able to execute in some situations that really helped us out. It set us up for the bullpen.”
Cain continued to generate offense from the No. 3 spot. After setting the table in the first, he drove in a run in the fifth. He dumped a two-out single over Giavotella’s head and into center field. Escobar galloped home from second.
Granted the lead, Yost could turn it over to his bullpen. The backbone of this club remains as sturdy as last season.
“I’m definitely glad these guys are on our squad,” Hosmer said. “You definitely tend to feel a little sorry for guys when you see the pitches that they’re throwing against them.”