If this has all been a mirage or a dream or some kind of insidious conspiracy to set up a nauseating, epic collapse, Tuesday was the ripe time and likely last real chance for it to be exposed.
Simply put, beleaguered Baltimore had to beat the Royals in game three of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium to have any credible chance of wriggling out of what was already a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven format.
“Losing the game might take a little bit of the steam out of things for you,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said, later adding, “You’d still have the lead in the series, but it takes a little momentum away from you.”
And for a flickering instant that surely gave the paranoid pause, the Orioles did puncture what has become a certain aura of destiny surrounding this Royals team and muted a crowd of more than 40,000.
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But that mystique-busting, such as it was, was minimal and fleeting: Baltimore mustered a 1-0 lead, its first of the series, and held it for all of two innings before the Royals reignited their indescribable, indestructible October.
So even if 29 dormant years between postseason might still make it hard to reconcile, this is no hallucination or figment of the imagination or clock ticking down to midnight:
Their 2-1 victory over Baltimore gave them a 3-0 advantage that appears to put them on an inevitable trajectory to the World Series … and in a resounding style that is awakening echoes of Major League Baseball history.
Since MLB turned to playoffs in 1969, only two teams (the 1976 Reds and the 2007 Rockies) previously have started the postseason 7-0.
The Reds won the World Series; the Rockies were swept by Boston.
Moreover, there now have been only two overall postseason winning streaks longer than the 10-game roll the Royals have been on going back to their last three victories in 1985.
One of those, of 12 games, commenced with the fabled 1927 New York Yankees.
“We’ve got a chance to improve that history,” said Butler, whose sacrifice fly in the sixth inning drove home Jarrod Dyson with the winning run. “But we’re just taking it a pitch at a time. That’s why we are where we are.
“Nobody’s getting ahead of themselves. They’re completely focused on that next pitch each time.”
And that’s the real point.
Because neophytes that the Royals are on this playoff scene, they have tamed it.
Instead of the glare wilting or paralyzing them, it’s illuminated who they are. In the time to stand and be counted, they’ve stood tall.
Not just with the stifling back end of their bullpen and superb defense but also with players you might have doubted most or who came the longest way.
Here was Lorenzo Cain, again, who didn't play baseball until high school, scoring the first Royals run.
Here was Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals’ No. 5 starter who hadn’t pitched since the end of the regular season, making their best start of the series and one of their best of the postseason.
“He did a great job,” manager Ned Yost said.
Here was Butler, benched and booed at times this season, with the so-called professional at-bat that won the game.
Here was Dyson, the 50th-round draft pick who had spouted off about the Orioles over the weekend, pinch-running for the pivotal run that ultimately backed up his words.
Here was Mike Moustakas, already thrilling with his four postseason home runs, now making several phenomenal plays in the field.
Those included the one headlong into the dugout suite that probably had gone viral by late Tuesday night and will become part of MLB lore in itself.
“On the road, he might have been out a couple days, but luckily the fans were there to save him,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said, smiling. “He didn’t care about the wall. He didn’t care about anything. He was willing to sacrifice his body for the team. That was pretty cool.”
All of which helps explain they the Royals have done nothing but break barriers, this postseason, starting with the wild-card victory over Oakland — the biggest comeback after the seventh inning in postseason history.
Now they’ll just be seeking not to become a first: a team to take a 2-0 lead on the road and fail to win the series.
That got another notch closer and tighter on Tuesday, when the pendulum of momentum would have been shoved back at them with a loss, a loss that would have flipped the burden of pressure.
Instead, the Royals did it again to distance themselves further from any thought that is a cruel illusion waiting to expire.
“It’s huge: You realize you’re one (win) away,” Hosmer said. “You win, you’re in. That’s all you’ve got to worry about.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.