Royals’ bullpen proves itself impenetrable again in pennant-clinching victory

Royals catcher Salvador Perez embraced closer Greg Holland after the final pitch Wednesday.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez embraced closer Greg Holland after the final pitch Wednesday. The Kansas City Star

There came a point early in the game Wednesday — not long after the Royals jumped out to a two-run lead — when Kelvin Herrera sat in the home bullpen and took a quick glance to his left.

There was Greg Holland, the Royals’ closer who hours later would tie an American League Championship Series record with four saves in a single series.

Then Herrera said he looked to his right. There sat Wade Davis, another right-handed power arm who would complete his fifth scoreless inning of the series as the final piece of a bridge to Holland.

“You just look at the guys sitting around you out there, and you know you’re in a good spot,” Herrera said. “You know it’s all going to work out.”

Herrera. Davis. Holland.

The formula that clicked so well in the regular season was magnified in yet another playoff game. The formidable bullpen trio that threw 14 2/3 innings in the series and allowed only one run struck again in the Royals’ 2-1 victory that sent them to their first World Series since 1985.

The bullpen’s final line Wednesday: 3 2/3 innings, two hits, no runs.

“We all have confidence in each other, and we all expect to win games when we have the lead,” Holland said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on.”

They were stretched for a couple of extra outs Wednesday.

After starter Jason Vargas allowed the leadoff man to reach in the sixth inning, he stayed in the game to retire left-handed Nick Markakis. After Markakis struck out, manager Ned Yost signaled for Herrera — a man he previously labeled his seventh-inning pitcher — to walk to the mound in the sixth.

Herrera worked around an Adam Jones single and escape the inning with a zero on the scoreboard.

The Orioles managed only one hit the final three innings.

“My whole game plan was just get us into the sixth with the lead,” Yost said. “It didn’t matter where we are, just get us into the sixth. (Vargas) got us one out into the sixth, so we could bring in Herrera for a five-out outing.”

Herrera added, “I’ll pitch as many innings as they want. I just want to help my team win games.”

The Royals have won eight straight in the postseason, half of them in extra innings and two more by just one run.

Holland has saves in six of the eight victories. His four in the ALCS tied a record for the most in a postseason series. Former A’s closer Dennis Eckersley had four in the 1988 ALCS, and former Yankees pitcher John Wetteland closed out all four victories in the 1996 World Series.

That dominance is unexpected only to those who overlooked the group in the regular season, starter James Shields said.

“Did you watch the series? Anybody would be confident. These guys have been doing it all year long,” Shields said. “As a starting pitcher, to be able to hand the ball off to the bullpen and have those guys at the back end, it’s awesome.”

And now they earned a few days off.

The Royals will play host to the opening game of the World Series on Tuesday.

Herrera, Davis and Holland will be fresh.

“It seems like the last two series, I’ve been pounding the bullpen and pounding the bullpen,” Yost said. “We get a little bit of us rest now and will be ready for the World Series.”

To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @SamMcDowell11.