KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Baltimore Orioles keep waiting for the Kansas City Royals to falter, for an outfielder to misplay a fly ball or an infielder to throw away an easy out.
Meanwhile, they’ve watched the Royals make one spectacular play after another.
Mike Moustakas did the deed Tuesday night, making a diving stab to rob Steve Pearce of a base hit, and then tumbling into a dugout suite to catch a popup off the bat of Adam Jones.
Those defensive gems kept the game within reach, and when Billy Butler drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, the long-downtrodden Royals were on their way to a 2-1 victory and a 3-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.
“It’s hard to take advantage of mistakes,” Pearce said, “when they’re not making any.”
Now, Kansas City is poised to return to the World Series for the first time since 1985, when it was last in the playoffs. Left-hander Jason Vargas will be on the mound for Game 4 on Wednesday, while Miguel Gonzalez will start for Baltimore as it tries to avoid elimination.
“This is tough, man. We’ve got one loss left. We’ve got to find a way to start pulling this out,” Pearce said. “We got to find somebody to get it done.”
The Orioles are the 34th team to trail 3-0 in a best-of-seven major league postseason series. The only team to come back and win was the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, STATS said.
“It’s been done before so that gives you a chance,” Jones said. “We’ve won four games before. Obviously, not in this situation. But we’ve won four games, four games, four games. So start tomorrow, start in the first inning and get some runs on the board.”
That has proven mighty difficult against the stingy pitching of the Royals, who have won 10 straight postseason games, including all seven this year.
The Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie and Orioles’ Wei-Yin Chen hooked up in a tense pitching duel for five innings Tuesday night, and the game was still 1-all when Chen gave up a leadoff single to Nori Aoki in the sixth. Eric Hosmer followed with a one-out single to put runners on the corners, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in hard-throwing reliever Kevin Gausman.
Butler greeted him with a fly ball to left field for the tiebreaking run — just the latest example of Kansas City doing all the little things right.
One of the best bullpens in baseball took care of the rest.
Winning pitcher Jason Frasor breezed through the sixth, and Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis nailed down the next two innings. Greg Holland worked a perfect ninth for his third save of the series, setting off a wild celebration in the stands.
It was the 13th game to be decided by one run this postseason, matching the record set in 2011 and tied last year. Six games have gone to extra innings, including the Giants’ 5-4, 10-inning victory over the Cardinals hours earlier in the NLCS.
“I wish I didn’t have so much stake in it,” Showalter said dryly. “I’d probably enjoy watching both teams play more than I do.”
After failing to take the lead in the first two games of the series, Baltimore managed to strike first on this night, temporarily silencing a frigid, flag-waving capacity crowd.
It happened in the second inning, when Pearce and J.J. Hardy connected off Guthrie with back-to-back doubles for a 1-0 lead. Guthrie wiggled out of the jam, though, and grinded through five innings against his former team in his first start since Sept. 26.
Chen matched him pitch-for-pitch until the fourth, when the scrappy Royals put together one of their quintessential innings: a pair of bloop singles, a walk and a tying RBI groundout.
Then there was the defense: Several marvelous plays by Hosmer at first base, a couple of nifty grabs in tricky winds by the Royals outfielder, and two spectacular plays by Moustakas that foiled any chance of a Baltimore comeback.
“They’re not giving us many chances to do things. They’re playing really well,” Hardy said. “I don’t know if you can say we’re playing well or not. We have to play some games.”
STATS AND STREAKS
Orioles DH Nelson Cruz had his streak of six straight multihit playoff games end. He was 0 for 4. … Pearce had been 0 for 9 in the series before his double in the second inning.
Orioles: Gonzalez has not started since his final regular-season outing on Sept. 28. “I’m going to try as best as possible to give our team a chance,” he said.
Royals: Vargas has also had a long stretch without a start, last taking the hill against the Angels in Game 1 of AL Division Series on Oct. 2. “I’ll be ready to go,” he said.
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