KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Resilience and perseverance are two traits that have come to epitomize the Kansas City Royals, who’ve turned into a playoff force with their run of late-inning wins.
They’re two qualities that the Baltimore Orioles had better embrace.
After taking the first two games of the AL Championship Series at the bandbox known as Camden Yards, the Royals return to spacious Kauffman Stadium needing two more wins to reach the World Series in their first playoff appearance since winning it all in 1985.
Game 3 is Monday night, with two more games on deck in Kansas City — the second only if needed. And make no mistake the Orioles are desperate to play all of them.
“You’ve got to win four games,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “You’ve got to keep from losing three. And that’s obviously oversimplifying it. But you look at teams that compete during the course of the season, they compete on the road, too.”
The Orioles were 46-35 on the road this season, a decent mark but by no means the same level of dominance that they exhibited at home. And now their power-hitting lineup has to try to punch balls over the outfield fence at one of the least homer-friendly ballparks in the game, a stadium that lends itself to the Royals’ strong suits: pitching and defense.
The Orioles will also have to overcome a daunting bit of history. Since the best-of-seven format was adopted 29 years ago, none of the previous 11 teams that dropped the first two games of a league championship series at home rallied to reach the World Series.
“We’re grown men. We’re not little kids who need to sit in a circle and play ‘Duck, Duck, Goose,’” Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said, when asked whether there would be any special pep talks before the game. “We’re just going to approach it as we’ve approached every game all season, and do what we do best.”
Wei-Yin Chen starts for the Orioles against former Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.
While the Orioles are trying to buck history, the Royals have been making some.
The same club that languished below .500 in late July has seemingly become invincible when the game is on the line. The Royals became the first team in major league history to win four playoff games in extra innings with their 8-6, 10-inning triumph in Game 1 on Friday night, and then added another chapter to their memorable postseason in Game 2 on Saturday.
After the Orioles kept rallying to tie the game, Alcides Escobar delivered a go-ahead double in the ninth inning that propelled Kansas City to a 6-4 victory.
“Over the past few years we’ve played a lot of close games,” Royals closer Greg Holland said. “The reason we’re here now is we’ve learned how to win those games. When you learn how to win those games, it kind of builds on itself and you know you can.”
The Royals have certainly embraced a flair for the dramatic.
Beginning with their rally from a four-run deficit in the eighth inning of their wild-card game against Oakland, and right through a pair of extra-inning wins over the Angels in the divisional round, the Royals have thrived when the game is in the balance.
It helps that they have one of the best bullpens in baseball. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland have been just as dynamic in the playoffs as they were in the regular season. And considering that neither the Royals nor Orioles have had a starter go deep in a game yet, the play of both bullpens already has proven pivotal.
“We just want to get the ball to our bullpen with the lead,” Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. “If we can do that, we know we got it.”
Getting the ball to the bullpen will be the job of Guthrie. He’ll be starting Monday night for the first time since Sept. 26, though he’s thrown simulated games and bullpen sessions to keep sharp.
“I’ve never had this much time between starts aside from being on the DL,” Guthrie said, “so I don’t view it one way or another. I was able to throw a simulated game, which at least gave me the opportunity to go out there and face hitters.
The Orioles will counter with Chen, who pitched well in two games against the Royals earlier this season.
“It doesn’t matter to me if we’re ahead or behind,” the left-hander said through interpreter Louis Chao, when asked about the Orioles’ two-game deficit. “For me, my job is to go out and pitch a good game. It doesn’t change whether it’s 0-2 or 2-0. I just want to pitch a good game.”