Jarrod Dyson climbed the three steps from the Royals dugout and clipped his spikes toward first base across the immaculately sculpted grass of Kauffman Stadium. It was the sixth inning of a tie game, the third contest in an American League Championship Series that Dyson predicted his team would win in five or fewer, and now he represented the winning run. When he reached the bag, first-base coach Rusty Kuntz waited with a message.
“You are not in here to steal a base,” Kuntz said.
The instruction defied Dyson’s ethos and the Royals’ season-long strategy. But their patience played a crucial role in a 2-1 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday night, a triumph that gave the Royals a 3-0 series lead and put them one win away from their first World Series berth since 1985.
Kuntz advised Dyson to focus on getting a read on the baseball, and Dyson was ready when Eric Hosmer cracked a single. Dyson jetted to third base, which placed him in optimal position for Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly.
Dyson had inspired headlines and siphoned up attention with his verbiage for the last two days, but as he sprinted the final 90 feet, he ran with his mouth sealed shut.
“I ain’t worried about no talk, man,” Dyson said inside a muted but confident Royals clubhouse. “I don’t want to talk about that. We just got a win. That’s all that matters.”
By now, the Royals have grown used to these results. They have yet to lose in the playoffs. In order to derail the Kansas City locomotive, the Orioles must repeat the once-in-a-lifetime rally staged by the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series.
On Tuesday, the vaunted Orioles offense turned frigid. The Royals retired the last 16 batters of the game. Baltimore managed just three hits. Jeremy Guthrie gutted through five innings of one-run baseball. After a spotless sixth inning from Jason Frasor, the late-game trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland reminded why they have been such a destructive force for so long.
In between, third baseman Mike Moustakas completed perhaps the most entertaining catch a Royal has made this season, swiping the thunder of his outfield teammates. His sixth-inning feat caused mouths to hang agape in the stands and fists to rise in the air.
With the bases empty and Frasor on the mound, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones lofted a pitch into foul territory. Moustakas hugged the railing of a dugout suite and waited for the ball’s descent. He stretched his frame over the heads of fans, who kept their hands at their sides rather than interfere. After Moustakas snatched the ball in his glove, the fans grabbed him to prevent him from tumbling onto his head.
“I was just watching the flight of the ball and tracking how it was coming back down,” Moustakas said. “The wind was kind of playing with it a little bit. I was just trying to get underneath it. It ended up coming back a little bit more than I expected. Just kind of threw my glove out there, and caught it.”
He bounced back onto the diamond. A roar of appreciation met him. The attendees in the dugout suite also deserved kudos. On the 11th anniversary of Steve Bartman’s unfortunate entry into Cubs history, no one at Kauffman Stadium would obstruct Moustakas’ play.
“I’m pretty familiar with that dugout suite over there,” Moustakas said. “I’ve been in there once or twice, maybe. But never anything like that.”
His grab was the night’s most dramatic moment. Otherwise, the Royals were clinical. Their pitching was impenetrable. Their offense was inefficient, but effective enough.
“We didn’t score as many runs as we wanted to,” said outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who smacked two more singles and scored his team’s first run. “But we found a way to get the win.”
The crowd basked in a pitcher’s duel to open the show. Guthrie returned after an 18-day layoff. A rainout on Monday added another 24 hours to his wait. The organization entrusted him for this assignment for a variety of reasons. For one, he throws with his right hand, and the Orioles’ lineup boasts a bevy of right-handed power. For another, Guthrie had finished September on a roll, with a 2.40 ERA in his five starts.
Guthrie, 35, spent parts of five seasons in Baltimore. He repaired his floundering career there. When the team traded him midway through the 2012 season, they were on the cusp of their first playoff berth in 14 years. Now Guthrie would make his first postseason start in his 11-year career against the organization that saved him.
“Serendipitous,” he called the coincidence.
One of his former teammates, shortstop J.J. Hardy, dumped Guthrie and his new team into an early ditch. After a one-out double by first baseman Steve Pearce, Hardy attacked a 1-1 fastball. His double soared to the warning track in right-center field. Not even Cain could track it down, and Pearce scored.
So, the Orioles claimed their first lead of this series. Guthrie was undeterred.
“I tried to stay as calm as possible,” he said.
Baltimore held the lead for only two innings. Alex Gordon looped a grounder to the right side of the infield with the bases loaded in the fourth and Cain scored. From there, the team picked up their second run in the sixth and held the line.
There was no need for late-night heroics or extra-innings sorcery. So, perhaps, it is best to do what the baseball world had done for the past few days, and just focus on Dyson.
After the Royals captured a two-game advantage in Baltimore, Dyson told The Star he did not expect the series to return to Camden Yards — and neither did the Orioles. A day later, with a national audience now hanging Dyson’s every word, he doubled down on the rhetoric. The Royals now occupied real estate in the collective head of their Baltimore opponents, a space similar to the one they held during a sweep of the Angels in the previous round.
The Orioles scoffed at Dyson. Most of their players brushed off his statements. After all, in the first two games, all Dyson had done was get caught stealing twice. Baltimore slugger Nelson Cruz offered a feeble rejoinder, insisting the series would, in fact, return to Charm City.
In order to do so, Baltimore must win these next two games. For on Tuesday they fell victim to the consequences of Dyson’s speed. After he reached third base, the Orioles attempted an elaborate pickoff play. Reliever Kevin Gausman faked a throw to first and then tried to catch Dyson drifting off third base. The Royals had the play well-scouted.
“We know he does that,” said third-base coach Mike Jirschele. “He does the step off, fake to first, throw back to third.”
For Dyson, the only problem was Orioles third baseman Ryan Flaherty tried to drop a knee to block the bag. Dyson dived head-first and avoided any calamity.
“I guess they’re upset about what I said,” Dyson said. “But that’s behind me. I’m just trying to move forward, man. We’ve got a game to play tomorrow. That’s all we’re worried about.”
Now just one win away from the World Series, Dyson eschewed boasting. There was no need. The reality of the moment was tantalizing enough.
“We’re almost there, man,” Dyson said. “We’re almost at the promised land. But we’ve still got to go out and play tomorrow like it’s our last.”