The Royals’ superb glovework was in motion from the opening pitch.
Angels leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun sent a Jason Vargas pitch toward the Konica Minolta sign that sits above the 8-foot fence that circles most of Angel Stadium, just to the right of the tall hedges in center field.
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain timed the leap perfectly, snared the ball before landing.
This was just the beginning of some amazing and creative defense played by the Royals on Thursday in the American League Division Series opener, which went into extra innings.
The outfield took extra bases away from the Angels all evening.
Cain not only had his back-to-the-fence leap, but he made a terrific sliding catch to rob Erick Aybar in the second.
Then right fielder Nori Aoki got in the act. The Angels put two on in the sixth, their first inning with multiple base runners, when Howie Kendrick cracked a two-out fly to deep right-center. Cain and Aoki raced to the spot, with Aoki getting there first. At the last moment, Aoki got his glove up to make the catch.
The next Aoki catch was a bit of an adventure. With two outs and a runner on second, C.J. Cron drove one to the warning track toward the right-field foul pole. Aoki took a circular route but got there just in time to make a sliding catch.
Two Aoki catches ended innings and run-scoring opportunities for the Angels.
And the team’s perennial Gold Glove outfielder, Alex Gordon, wasn’t involved in any of the festivities.
The infield also had its moments, none more athletic than Eric Hosmer’s glove scoop of Aybar’s bunt. It became a race, and Aybar went into a slide. Hosmer swiped his glove on Aybar’s back just before Aybar reached first.
That’s five outs that were anything but routine.
The Angels turned a gem of their own, when left fielder Josh Hamilton went back to the short fence, reached up and grabbed a drive by Salvador Perez in the fifth inning.
But strong defense is part of the Royals’ identity and critical element to their first postseason appearance since 1985.
In several standard team fielding statistics, the Royals finished in the middle of the American League. But Royals outfielders cover a lot of ground, are usually fundamentally sound and are well positioned by Rusty Kuntz, the assistant coach who oversees outfield play and the team’s running game.