In Anaheim, Calif., and Baltimore, the Royals flexed their muscles knocking the ball over the wall.
In Kansas City, they returned to their seasonlong identity of manufacturing runs.
Wednesday’s American League Championship Series-clinching 2-1 victory matched the score of Game 3, and on both days the Royals scratched and clawed for their offense.
In the clincher, the Royals scored two without the ball leaving the infield.
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“It speaks to the flexibility, the versatility of this team,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “No matter what park you put us in, no matter what kind of game it is, we have weapons.”
They were unleashed in the first inning Wednesday.
After fouling a ball off his foot and appearing to be in some pain, leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar gathered himself and bounced over pitcher Miguel Gonzalez. The ball wasn’t going to reach the outfield, but it also wasn’t going to be grabbed soon enough to make a play at first.
The next hitter, Nori Aoki, tried to avoid an inside fastball by leaping. The ball found him anyway, and the Royals’ first two hitters had reached.
The third hitter was the Royals’ hottest. Lorenzo Cain. Three hours later, Cain would stand on the stage set up over second base and accept the Lee MacPhail Award as the ALCS MVP for his hitting and defense. Cain hit .533 and came up big throughout the playoffs.
But Cain was asked to bunt, and he dribbled one perfectly up the first base line, moving the runners into scoring position.
In the first three games of the series, the Royals had come through in these situations. On Tuesday, Alex Gordon drove in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder, and Billy Butler brought in the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly.
Now it was Hosmer’s turn. He entered the game with one single in nine career at-bats against Gonzalez, whose strength is his off-speed stuff.
“You tell yourself, ‘Stay in the middle,’” Hosmer said. “You try to hit a ground ball up the middle and get a run in any way you can.”
Hosmer swung and missed. He got enough of the next pitch to pound it in the dirt and send it to first baseman Steve Pearce, who threw a strike to catcher Caleb Jones. The ball barely beat Escobar to the plate.
But Escobar’s trail leg kicked the ball loose from Jones’ mitt, sending it to the backstop.
Around came Aoki, and the Royals led 2-0 without a ball anywhere near the outfield grass.
According to Stats, a sports information company, Escobar’s hit was the team’s 15th single of the postseason. The nine other teams had combined for 14 entering the day.
The Royals entered the ALCS with 12 playoff stolen bases and added only one to that total against the Orioles. But the infield hits, not to mention broken bat knocks with runners on base, contributed in a major way to the sweep.
They hit all eight of their playoff home runs in the first six games. When the ALCS returned to Kauffman Stadium, so did the team that hit a baseball-low 95 homers on the regular season. But found other ways to score.
“It’s what we do,” Cain said. “It’s what we’ve been doing.”