It looked like the Royals had finally stopped believing in themselves.
After Houston tacked on three runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 6-2 lead in Monday’s ALDS Game 4, sending Astros fans at Minute Maid Park into that emotion just beyond hysteria, the Royals looked cooked.
A staffer for Texas’ governor tweeted congratulations to the Astros, which pretty much seals that he won’t be re-elected.
But then it started, so innocently. No. 9 hitter Alex Rios poked a single to lead off the top of the eighth inning and it was like poking a hibernating bear.
The hits just kept coming. From Alcides Escobar. From Ben Zobrist. From Lorenzo Cain. From Eric Hosmer. By the time 16 batallions from the Houston Fire Department arrived to wet down the Astros’ bullpen, Kansas City had scored five runs to take a 7-6 lead.
It was reminiscent of the American League wild-card game last season, when Kansas City came from behind to tie Oakland and then beat the A’s in extra innings. Improbability is just a 13-letter word to the Royals and impossibility doesn’t exist.
Hosmer’s two-run homer in the ninth was almost cruel and unusual punishment to an Astros team that was shut down over the final two innings Monday by Wade Davis and now must board a plane and fly to Kansas City for Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. I sure hope none of them get middle seats – that could get ugly.
The last time the Royals won a game of such magnitude like this – in that wild-card game against Oakland – they went on to rip off eight straight wins against the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles before finally being beaten by San Francisco in a seven-game World Series.
The Royals didn’t try to do too much in the eighth inning, which was part of the beauty of the uprising. They chipped away with singles and a key fielder’s choice and error on a grounder hit by designated-hitter Kendrys Morales that nipped the glove of Houston reliever Tony Sipp and bounced off the glove of shortstop Carlos Correa and into center field.
Poor Correa. At 21, he’s too young to have to go through such disappointment, especially after his wrecking-crew performance at the plate. He had a couple of homers, a double and a single and it was his two-run blast in the seventh that appeared to give the Astros enough breathing room to wrap up the series.
But momentum has done a complete U-turn.
In a baseball game like this one, there are multiple moments to be dissected. I’m going to go back to the Astros’ seventh, when they scored four times and were knocking Royals reliever Ryan Madson around. Madson relieved Kelvin Herrera after a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve and promptly struck out George Springer.
Then, though, Correa popped his two-run homer and Colby Rasmus followed with a solo shot down the right-field line, making it 6-2. Instead of pulling Madson for one of the many relievers available, Madson stayed on. And Ryan Gattis singled to center. Then Carlos Gomez singled to right.
It was at that point that somebody needed to WAKE UP NED YOST IN THE DUGOUT!!! Was he calling his wife to tell her he’d be home for dinner? Was he checking tee times? What, exactly, was he doing?
Madson needed a hook.
But with runners at first and third and one out, Madson induced a shallow fly ball to left by Luis Valbeuna and struck out Marwin Gonzalez. The Astros will be kicking themselves for not getting another run or two against Madson. And Yost should thank every star he sees in the sky because they must all be lucky for him.
The Houston bullpen allowed six hits and seven runs in 2.2 innings after an impressive performance by young right-hander Lance McCullers, who was nearly perfect outside of the two-run homer he allowed to Salvador Perez in the second inning.
The Royals entered the eighth inning with two hits and a prayer to face a Houston reliever, Will Harris, who allowed 42 hits in 71 innings this season and had not allowed more than two runs in any of his 68 appearances. He allowed four Monday, three of them earned.
It was almost as if Kansas City won twice. They won the game, of course, but they also won back the magic that had been missing in this postseason.
The Royals and their fans have been reminded that anything is possible with this team. No deficit is insurmountable. Kansas City pulled one out of a hat Monday. And a bird pooped on the Astros’ bare heads.