Ask someone who knows baseball, and he will tell you there are two things you can’t teach: power and speed. Power is expensive and less productive in a ballpark the size of Kauffman Stadium, but speed is affordable and plays well in a big ballpark.
Every team that has had to play the Royals in the postseason has mentioned their athleticism.
That athleticism and speed was on display again Wednesday afternoon. Alex Gordon chased down a ball in left field and after making the catch crashed into the chain link that protects the electronic scoreboard. Alcides Escobar managed to stay on second base when Greg Holland made a wide throw that could have been disastrous. Omar Infante got in on the act with a nice play at second base. This postseason, Lorenzo Cain has been making plays all over the outfield. Eric Hosmer has shown why he won a Gold Glove. Mike Moustakas made one of the best postseason catches ever.
The Royals have been winning games with pitching, defense and just enough offense to score at least one more run than the opposition. Wednesday afternoon, the Royals made that formula work one more time. They beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1, swept the series and won the American League championship.
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The very athletic Kansas City Royals are headed to the World Series.
Errors are not always accidents
The Royals scored their two runs in the first inning when Alcides Escobar tried to score from third on a groundball to first base. The throw home beat Esky, but as the Orioles’ catcher turned to make the tag, the ball came out of his mitt. The ball deflected away from home plate, Alcides scored and Nori Aoki was able to score from second.
It might seem lucky, but aggressive base running can force errors. The other team tries to play too fast, and bad things happen. If the defense makes the play, you tip your cap and walk away.
The alternative to being aggressive — taking the extra base, stealing bases, bunting, hit-and-runs — is to play station-to-station baseball. Stand around waiting for the guy at the plate to do something. But when the pitching is good, that’s not much of a game plan.
The Royals won the last two games by scoring four runs. None of which was the result of a hit. A sacrifice fly, a ground out and a fielder’s choice turned into four runs, an American League championship and a trip to the World Series.
What happens when you’re not aggressive
The other team doesn’t have to worry about the stolen base, so the pitcher doesn’t have to throw out of the slide step. He can take his time getting the ball to the catcher. He can also throw more off-speed stuff. He doesn’t have to throw hittable fastballs in an effort to help his catcher throw out runners.
If you never bunt, the third baseman doesn’t have to play in. If you never steal a base, the middle infielders don’t have to pinch the middle. Pitchers don’t have to throw pickoffs. They can concentrate on the batter.
Fans get upset when runners make outs on the base paths, but never taking a chance could actually lead to something worse.
The celebration afterward
If you’ve never stood in the middle of a baseball diamond while 40,000 people cheer their lungs out, it’s an experience I can highly recommend, even when not one single person is cheering you. The 2014 Kansas City Royals swept the Baltimore Orioles, won the American League Championship and afterward the media got to go on the field for the trophy presentation.
It was also a chance to congratulate the players and coaches and hear what they had to say.
Third-base coach Mike Jirschele said he was never comfortable, not even with a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning. The Royals had closer Greg Holland on the mound, but the Orioles had their three-, four- and five-hole hitters coming to the plate. Any one of them could have tied the game with a single swing of the bat but didn’t.
Every day, I ask coach Rusty Kuntz what he has for me, and Rusty gives me something to look for during the game. After this game, Rusty said, “What do I have for you? Tears.” And Rusty was misting up. Unless you’ve spent years waiting for something like this to happen, it’s hard to appreciate how much it means.
Even Jason Kendall — the grumpiest man in baseball — walked by and said it was “pretty (bleeping) cool.”
My sons have grown to be very interested in the Royals and watch every game. I’ve been telling them to enjoy this. You never know when it will happen again. And I’d give the same advice to every Royals fan. Enjoy this season, the World Series and what the Royals already have accomplished.
It is pretty (bleeping) cool.