SAN FRANCISCO – The perfect Kansas City Royals victory included every morsel that encapsulates this run to the World Series. Dynamic pitching. Pristine glovework. Enough hitting. And completely curious, illogical managing from Ned Yost that somehow works out for the best.
An early lead that yielded to a tense stretch in the middle of the game crescendoed with a 3-2 victory for Kansas City on Friday night that gave the Royals a 2-1 series lead over the San Francisco Giants. The win ensured the Royals would return to Kansas City – either for a Game 6 or, with two more wins here at AT&T Park, as world champions.
While the postgame focus for the Giants will center on whether to bring ace Madison Bumgarner back on three days’ rest to start Game 4 on Saturday, the Royals will bask in their second consecutive win and 10th in 11 postseason games.
At the center of it all – always at the center, really – stands Yost, the Royals’ maligned manager who in the most tense moments of the game turns the inexplicable into magic. Whether it’s kismet or luck matters none. He is the Royals’ manager, and the Royals moved one step closer to their first championship since 1985.
After Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie breezed through the first five innings, the time seemed ripe to replace him, especially with his spot due up in the batting order. Yost let him hit, watched the Giants plate a run with a single and double to start the bottom of the sixth inning, and went to relief ace Kelvin Herrera, who allowed another run to cut the Royals’ advantage to 3-2.
Though Herrera worked out of the jam, Yost let him take his first, and hopefully last, career at-bat in the top of the seventh. Never mind that Billy Butler, Josh Willingham and Nori Aoki were available, not to mention that a trio of left-handed hitters was coming up the next inning. Yost knew what he wanted to do and did it – and after Herrera walked the leadoff hitter, he struck out Brandon Belt and then gave way to rookie Brandon Finnegan, who made the full College World Series-to-real World Series transition. He induced a flyout from pinch hitter Juan Perez and struck out Brandon Crawford.
Wade Davis did what Wade Davis does in the eighth. (Dominate.) Greg Holland did what Greg Holland does in the ninth. (Dominate.) And the rest of the Royals did what they do. (Enough.)
Alcides Escobar kicked off the scoring, parlaying a leadoff double into a run after a pair of groundouts, and he scored Kansas City’s second run in the sixth inning after new No. 2 hitter Alex Gordon doubled him home. Gordon scored on a single after a brilliant 11-pitch at-bat by Eric Hosmer, staking Kansas City a 3-0 lead it protected with its gloves.
Whether it was two sliding Lorenzo Cain catches in right field, an on the run, across-his-body throw from Omar Infante or Salvador Perez gunning down a stolen-base attempt and fielding a bunt perfectly, the Royals’ defense was seamless.
All of the elements wove together for a tapestry emblematic of their season, an out-of-nowhere run that’s now two games away from a championship.