When the score stands at 2-0 two batters into the game, a team’s table-setting skills are impeccable.
So it is with the Royals, who didn’t stop at two runs on Tuesday. They rolled to a 14-2 triumph in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series and moved within one victory of another league pennant.
Those two runs at the outset set the game’s tone and immediately wiped away the sour taste of the Royals’ loss in Game 3.
It also continued a remarkable ALCS for their one-two punch at the top, Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist.
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They’ve raked throughout the playoffs, and Tuesday they added variety to their act.
Against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Escobar swung through the first pitch. As he stepped in the batter’s box for the second, he took a quick glance at third base and saw Josh Donaldson playing deep and perfectly placed a bunt.
Up stepped Zobrist, and out went the baseball — a home run launched into the stands that sucked the air out of Rogers Centre.
“They’ve been table setters. They’ve been run producers. It’s been fun to watch them go to work every day,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
On Tuesday, Escobar chipped in a pair of sacrifice flies, Zobrist another base hit. Four games into the ALCS, Escobar is hitting .600 (9 for 15) and Zobrist .389 (7 for 18). If the series had ended Tuesday, or if it ends on Wednesday, Escobar likely would be chosen series MVP.
“You can’t ask for any more,” Zobrist said of his teammate. “Even when there are guys on base, he’s doing a good job driving the ball, hitting it hard and having good at-bats. He’s just been great.”
Both players have etched their names into baseball’s and the Royals’ playoff record books.
Escobar has hit safely to open all four games against the Blue Jays. That has never happened in a postseason series.
This from a player who finished the regular season with an on-base percentage so low — .293 — that Yost moved him out of the leadoff spot for about two weeks late in the season.
The Royals started losing games, and Escobar returned to the top. Yost can’t explain it, and the numbers clearly run contrary to sabermetrics. But the Royals seem to function better with Escobar at the top, and especially if he hacks at the first pitch.
“I want to go to home plate and be aggressive, trying to swing at strikes,” Escobar said. “And I’m doing really good right now. I continue to be the same guy. I don’t need to change anything.”
On Monday, Escobar collected four hits and Zobrist three doubles, with each scoring three runs. Zobrist’s output was a Royals’ postseason record, and Escobar’s four hits tied a club mark.
Zobrist’s home run Tuesday was his first in this postseason, and he took advantage of a Dickey knuckleball that floated instead of danced.
“The one that I hit just kind of stayed in the same spot,” Zobrist said. “It was up, and it stayed up and didn’t dive one way or another, and I was able to get the barrel on it.”
The Royals haven’t failed to barrel many pitches throughout the postseason. Through the two series, they’re hitting .284 with 12 home runs — a record for a Royals’ playoff year. Every regular except Escobar and Mike Moustakas has at least one home run, and Lorenzo Cain extended his postseason hitting streak to 13 games, a stretch that dates to last season.
On Tuesday, the ninth place in the batting order — Alex Rios for three plate appearances and Paulo Orlando for two — went a combined 5-for-5.
But it starts at the top, where Escobar and Zobrist have led the charge to the brink of an American League championship.
“This whole team up and down the line — everybody feels dangerous right now,” Zobrist said.