KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In five previous at-bats, Salvador Perez had flailed. He looked terrible at the plate, much like he’s looked for the past three months.
Then, suddenly, he stopped looking terrible. He lined a double past Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson to score Christian Colon with the winning run in a miraculous, marvelous, American League wild-card playoff game. The Royals won it in 12 innings, 9-8, after they had seemingly lost it.
They showed grit, determination, will. Ah, heck, just look up everything a Boy Scout is supposed to be and that’s what the Royals were Tuesday night before a sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium.
What a season it’s been for the Kansas City Royals and their fans. The ups, the downs, the first postseason in 29 years. The love-hate with the manager, Ned Yost, whose handling of the team’s pitching in the sixth inning nearly sent a sellout crowd of 40,502 for the American League wild card playoff game over the edge.
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And, ultimately, the amazing late-inning rallies – three runs in the eighth, one in the ninth – that sent the game to extra innings. And then the Royals figured out a way, scoring twice in the 12th after the A’s had scored once in the top of the inning.
The Royals are the talk of the sports nation. This was a game for the history books. Heck, it lasted for nearly an era. The Royals are moving on to face the Los Angeles Angels in an American League Division Series that starts Thursday night in Anaheim. They’ll be flying to the west coast without an airplane.
And Yost would do well to buy something special for every one of his players because if the Royals hadn’t come back to win this one, he would have been vilified.
Yost pulled a head-scratcher in the sixth after Royals starter James Shields allowed singles to Sam Fuld and Josh Donaldson to lead off the inning with KC leading, 3-2.
Instead of allowing the ace, Shields, to try and get through the damage, Yost went to the bullpen for young starter Yordano Ventura, who had pitched only once in relief this season and threw 73 pitches in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Chicago White Sox.
Most thought Ventura was throwing in the bullpen because starting pitchers normally throw a bullpen – albeit not normally during a game – two days after a start.
Nope, Ventura got the call and proceeded to give up a three-run homer to Oakland designated hitter Brandon Moss, his second long ball of the game. That put the A’s up, 5-3, and they tacked on two more in the inning against Kelvin Herrera.
The blue-clad fans who packed Kauffman Stadium were seeing red. How could Yost go to Ventura in that spot? Why did he pull Shields, who was acquired in a trade before the 2012 season for precisely a moment like this?
Shields is a bulldog, unwavered by the prospect of two-on, no outs in a postseason game. He had thrown only 88 pitches and had set down seven A’s hitters consecutively going into the inning.
But Yost made the move. And after Oakland’s five-run rally, the demeanor inside the stadium changed. Hope became despair, optimism turned to resignation.
The Royals themselves, though, don’t play those games.
They’ve been a resilient team all season, playing over their heads just when you think they’re on the outs. It’s a team that captured the hearts of their fan base, at least the part of those hearts that haven’t been blackened by the decisions made by Yost over the years.
His call to take rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan out of the game after a leadoff walk in the 12th, which followed two shutout innings, can also be questioned. Finnegan’s replacement, right-hander Jason Frasor, wild-pitched Josh Reddick to third and he scored the go-ahead run on a one-out single by former Royal Alberto Callaspo, who has done significant damage to his former team over the years.
The Royals played uphill for much of the game and finally the hill won. But the hill will never be the same, thanks to a three-run Royals rally in the eighth inning that started against Oakland starter Jon Lester and included key RBI hits from Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler.
Kansas City tied the game in the ninth, thanks mostly to Jarod Dyson, who pinch-ran after Josh Willingham started the inning with a bloop single to right.
Dyson was sacrificed to second by Alcides Escobar – even though it would have been a good call just to have the speedy Dyson swipe second. He did steal third with one out, an incredibly courageous move, and scored on Nori Aoki’s sacrifice fly.
And on and on the game went, eventually giving baseball only the second winner-takes-all game in history that went at least 12 innings. The other came in 1924, when the Washington Senators rallied for a run in the 12th to beat the New York Giants, 4-3, in the seventh game of the World Series.
The winning pitcher in that one was Hall of Famer and Humboldt native Walter Johnson, who pitched four innings of scoreless relief for the Senators and even had a hand in the 12th-inning rally, reaching base on a one-out error ahead of Earl McNeely, whose double scored Muddy Ruel with the winning run.
Salvador Perez is this generation’s Earl McNeely.