This was just game one?
The American League Wild Card game was played on Tuesday night in Kansas City. The Oakland A’s took on the Kansas City Royals in a winner-take-all, one game elimination game with the winner advancing to the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The A’s had the best record in the game for much of the season, but a drop of offensive production combined with costly injuries saw them fall out of the division lead in the American League West to the Angels, who ended the regular season with a 98-64 record, which was the best in all of baseball.
The Royals have not made a postseason appearance since winning the 1985 World Series before their appearance this year. That’s 29 long years of futility for a once proud organization that dominated the American League West in the 70’s and 80’s. But they finished 89-73 this season, one game out of the division lead in the American League Central. Needless to say, Kauffman Stadium was going insane as an entire generation of Royals’ fans have never experienced this scene before.
James Shields and Jon Lester faced off in a battle of aces, and the A’s got off to a fast start. Brandon Moss took a Shields’ changeup into the seats in right to put the A’s in front 2-0 early on. The Royals came right back with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning on a Billy Butler single scoring Nori Aoki from second base to cut the A’s lead to 2-1 after one.
The Royals would jump out in front by adding two runs in the bottom of the third. Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a single and was moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt by Alcides Escobar. Nori Aoki grounded out, but advanced Moustakas to third with two men out. Lorenzo Cain then doubled to left field to drive in the tying run and Eric Hosmer followed with a soft fly ball to left that fell in between the shortstop and left fielder. Cain was able to score from second on the play, and the Royals took a 3-2 lead.
The game remained 3-2 until the sixth. The A’s got their first two men on base after a Sam Fuld single and a Josh Donaldson walk. Royals’ manager Ned Yost, in a rather surprising move, pulled James Shields with 88 pitches and brought in rookie Yordano Ventura, who is a starting pitcher, into unfamiliar territory coming out of the bullpen and having to deal with two inherited runners. Brandon Moss was the first batter he faced, and he belted a three-run home run to straightaway center field to give the A’s a 5-3 lead. The Royals saw their lead disappear and the city was left stunned. The A’s would add on two more runs after Yost pulled Ventura and brought in Kelvin Herrera, but the damage was undoubtedly done. The Royals were retired in order in the bottom half of the sixth and the A’s had a 7-3 lead going into the seventh.
The game remained this way into the bottom of the eighth. The Royals, a team that does not score many runs, needed to find at least four runs down to their final six outs. They needed a miracle to happen. Alcides Escobar singled to lead off the inning and then stole second base. Nori Aoki grounded out, advancing Escobar to third with one out. Lorenzo Cain then singled to center field, driving in Escobar to cut the deficit to three. Cain then stole second base and Eric Hosmer walked to put two men on for Billy Butler, who faced Luke Gregerson after A’s manager Bob Melvin took Lester out of the game. Butler drove a single into right-center field, scoring Cain and sending Hosmer to third. The Royals trailed by two and had the bases cornered with one out. Terrance Gore pinch ran for Butler and stole second base on the first pitch to Alex Gordon. Then Gregerson threw a wild pitch, allowing Hosmer to score from third and Gore to move up to third. The score was 7-6. Kauffman Stadium was alive once again. Gordon walked to put the go ahead run on base, but Salvador Perez and Omar Infante both struck out so send the game into the ninth.
Greg Holland worked in and out of trouble without giving up a run. Josh Willingham pinch hit for Mike Moustakas and dropped a single into right and was pinch run for by Jarrod Dyson. Alcides Escobar bunted Dyson over to second to put the tying run in scoring position with one out. Dyson stole third base with Nori Aoki batting, and the place erupted once again. Aoki lifted a long sacrifice fly to right, scoring Dyson and tying the game at seven. Lorenzo Cain then lined out to short to end the inning, but we had a brand new ball game.
Brandon Finnegan was drafted by the Royals on June 5th with the 17th overall selection out of TCU. He pitched for the Horned Frogs in the College World Series and then flew up the Royals’ minor league system. He entered the game in the tenth inning and retired the side in order, striking out Nick Punto to end the inning. Finnegan walked off the field screaming. This is a 21 year old kid who was in college four months ago. Now, he found himself thriving on the biggest stage in the game; a winner-take-all postseason game. Finnegan struck out two more batters in the eleventh and came out to pitch the twelfth.
Finnegan walked Josh Reddick to lead off the inning. Jed Lowrie proceeded to move him over with a sacrifice bunt. The A’s had the go ahead run in scoring position with one out. Ned Yost yanked Finnegan from the game and brought in veteran Jason Frasor out of the bullpen. The TCU southpaw left to a standing ovation. Frasor threw a wild pitch that got Reddick over to third, and former Royal Alberto Callaspo drove him in with a single to left. The A’s had the lead once again.
But the Royals refused to go away. After Lorenzo Cain grounded out to first base, Eric Hosmer belted a fly ball to left-center field. Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld leaped at the wall, but neither could come up with it. The ball rolled and Hosmer stood up into third with a triple. The tying run was on third base. Christian Colon was up next. He chopped a slow ground ball toward third base. Josh Donaldson could not come up with it cleanly and everyone was safe. Hosmer scored from third and the game was tied. Again. 29 years of postseason hunger was let out at once and Kauffman Stadium was a sight to behold.
It came down to Alex Gordon, a Nebraska native who was one when the Royals last made the postseason. He grew up rooting for them and now he could be the hero. The A’s went to Fernando Abad out of the bullpen, who held lefties to a .191 average this season. He got Gordon to pop put to third, and once again, there were two men out.
Melvin then replaced Abad with Jason Hammel, who is a starting pitcher. Salvador Perez was 0-5 with two strikeouts coming into this at-bat. He fell behind 1-2 in the count, and then Hammel pitched out as Colon was going on the next pitch. Catcher Derek Norris dropped the ball, and Colon was into second without a throw. Perez fouled the next pitch off, and then Perez gave the city a memory they will never forget. He took a slider down and away and pulled it past a diving Donaldson and into left field. Colon scored the winning run from second, giving the Royals a 9-8 victory in one of the best postseason games in history. The Royals were on their way to Anaheim and will play the Angels in the ALDS.
But the point of this story is how can you not love baseball? A fan base that has been waiting literally their whole lives to watch their team play in the postseason go back and forth for almost five hours in an elimination game, and they get treated with this. The wait was well worth it, and the Royals’ postseason run has only just begun. This is what baseball is all about. So be sure to tune into the postseason, because you do not want to miss another emotional roller-coaster like this one.