Royals

Royals’ Paulo Orlando is poised to be first Brazilian-born player to appear in World Series

Paulo Orlando, who hit a single during Game 4 of the ALCS, will be the first Brazilian-born player to make the World Series.
Paulo Orlando, who hit a single during Game 4 of the ALCS, will be the first Brazilian-born player to make the World Series. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The interview requests haven’t slowed.

There has been a steady stream of people wanting to talk with outfielder Paulo Orlando since the Royals won a second-straight American League pennant Friday by beating the Blue Jays 4-3.

Orlando did two more Monday with reporters in Brazil. Everyone wants to know: What’s it feel like to be the first Brazilian-born player to make it to the World Series?

“I just try to answer that it’s the right place, the right time and the right team,” Orlando said. “I’m just enjoying it and am representing by birth flag.”

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During the celebration Friday in the Royals’ clubhouse, Orlando clutched a champagne bottle and wrapped himself in a Brazilian flag. He called the flag his good-luck charm, having brought it with him during Class AAA Omaha’s playoff run a year ago.

With Orlando in the starting lineup, the Storm Chasers won the Pacific Coast League championship and then the Triple-A National Championship Game against Pawtucket.

He was invited to spring training this year and seemed to many as a long shot to make the team as a 29-year-old. But Orlando kept things simple.

“I just thought in my mind: Make the team and stay healthy,” he said. “I played a lot of years in the minor leagues.”

Orlando, whose birthday is Sunday, broke camp and became a national sensation for hitting triples. He had five in his first seven games as a big-leaguer. Because he possesses minor-league options, Orlando was sent to Omaha in late May but returned to the Royals in early July.

Instead of triples, Orlando hit home runs in his return. He hit a walkoff grand slam that beat the Rays and then a few days later had a solo shot that won a wild 11-10 game against Toronto on the day before the All-Star break. Later in the month, he was back in Omaha, only to be recalled by the Royals on Aug. 9.

During the playoffs, Orlando has been used mostly as a defensive replacement for Alex Rios in right field.

“He’s a guy that can definitely run and make plays,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “He comes in for a reason. He’s a guy who can go get it. He showed that in a few games: the catch he made against the wall here.”

That catch was the final out of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against Houston. Orlando tracked down a fly ball off the bat of George Springer and then crashed into the wall.

“That ball carried a little bit to right field,” Orlando said. “That’s not normal during the regular season. On that one, it was hit pretty well. But I was glad to catch the final out.”

Putting a value on a defensive replacement can be a tricky proposition. But FanGraphs’ UZR/150 provides a number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.

Orlando ranked fourth (14.3) among American League right fielders who played at least 300 innings.

“He’s a guy who’s really skilled, a playmaker out there,” Cain said, “and that’s what we need out there in the late innings when it’s crunch time.”

Orlando batted 1.000 against the Blue Jays in the ALCS (2 for 2), and defense is the reason he likely is going to be the first Brazilian-born player in the World Series. He’s just the third Brazilian-born player to make the majors, following Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes and Miami pitcher Andre Rienzo.

Now he’s the trailblazer. Orlando said the World Series will be readily available on televisions in his home nation, and when he makes his first appearance, Brazilians will certainly swell with pride.

Before that, though, he still has to answer the crush of texts and emails he’s received in addition to the TV requests.

“It’s very exciting for me,” Orlando said. “I appreciate it for the moment.”

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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