The coronation came too quick for the Giants.
All day Wednesday, before Game 2 of the World Series, the army of pundits gathered here in Kansas City had nothing but praise for the juggernaut Giants. What makes that team so great, Bruce Bochy? When did you know this was a special group of guys, Hunter Pence?
It was as if the Game 1 rout of the Royals, in which everything went right for the Giants, was worth more than one win. It was as if the Giants had demoralized Kansas City and the championship was simply theirs for the taking.
Well, the Royals had different ideas, pounding the Giants 7-2 in a Game 2 statement that reminded everyone watching that Kansas City is a very, very good team. Just like that, a viable World Series matchup broke out that could go five, six or even seven games deep and should provide plenty of drama.
That might not be what Giants’ fans want. But this is what baseball fans should want.
“It’s a battle,” said Pence, the Giants’ spiritual leader. “It’s a joy to be a part of a series like this. That’s what baseball’s about. Loving these moments.”
For five innings Wednesday night, on a balmy fall night at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, the Giants and Royals played even up, trading punches in a 2-2 stalemate. But in the sixth, when both starting pitchers faltered, the real Royals showed up and the Giants couldn’t keep pace. The Royals put five runs on the scoreboard and the rout was on.
This Kansas City team is built on speed, defense and a lockdown bullpen. Throw in some timely power hitting, and Kansas City provides a nightmare matchup for the Giants. Prior to San Francisco’s impressive 7-1 victory in Game 1, the Royals had rattled off eight straight playoff victories, starting with a memorable Wild Card win in extra innings against the Oakland A’s, ruining any chance of a Bay Bridge Series this fall.
Now we know why they won all those games. And Bochy’s Giants will have to come up with some creative solutions to the Royals’ puzzle.
“We their pitching and our pitching and the way both teams play, we are going to have a fight, I think, every game,” said Bochy.
Interesting choice of words from Bochy, considering the heated exchange between the two teams in the tumultuous sixth inning. The Royals had taken a one-run lead off the faltering Giants bullpen when big Salvador Perez strode to the plate. The Royals’ mountainous catcher proceeded to hit a double, scoring two. That didn’t sit well with the Giants’ Hunter Strickland, a rookie reliever who has been getting abused throughout the postseason. The two large men stared each other down.
The next Royals’ hitter, Omar Infante, cranked one over the fence. As the two Royals crossed the plate, Strickland starting barking at them. And the Royals barked back. Players spilled onto the field from the Royals’ bench, while umpires restrained Strickland from advancing. In a brief moment, this World Series went from flat-line to red-line.
So back it goes to San Francisco, where the Giants hope to close out the Royals with three wins at AT&T Park. Kansas City hopes to do the same. The World Series stands tied at one game apiece, with both teams turning in dominating performances in the opening rounds.
The next three games fall on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, giving Bay Area baseball fans a dream weekend filled with compelling storylines.
Can the Giants score early in these games, taking the lead and avoiding having to come back against the Royals’ lethal bullpen? Will the Royals vaunted base stealers ever run free? Who will emerge as the dominant hitter in the Series? Will the Giants cement their claim to being a dynasty by winning their third title in five years? Or will the Royals, America’s darlings, end a 29-year drought and bring the trophy home to its starved fans in Kansas City?
It’s all compelling stuff that will be decided on the diamond, between two evenly matched teams that may be developing a healthy dose of dislike for one another.
“Yeah, it was great to get a win here,” said Bochy. “This is a great club. For us to leave here with a split? You’d like to get greedy, but we know it’s going to be a tough series.”
Al Saracevic is sports editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org