Quick Hits: Alex Gordon leads Royals to 8-6 win in Game 1 of ALCS
Alex Gordon led the Royals to big extra innings win in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night.
BALTIMORE - For most of Friday, it appeared Mother Nature would interfere with Game 1 of the ALCS. There was rain in the forecast basically all afternoon and right through to Saturday morning, but it cleared out by first pitch.
Of course, the game was delayed anyway because a bank of lights in center field wouldn't turn off before first pitch. TBS analyst and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez provided some entertainment during the delay (GIF via SB Nation):
Once that was over with, the Royals topped the Orioles by score of 8-6 in 10 innings (box score) to win Game 1. Kansas City took the always preferable one game to none series lead. Let's break down this nail-biter of an ALCS opener.
This is nerve wracking. How do other fans deal with this more than once every 29 years?— Royals Review (@royalsreview) October 11, 2014
Hero: Alex Gordon. Pretty easily too. Not only did he hit the go-ahead solo home run in the top of the 10th, he also drove in three runs with a broken bat bloop double in the third inning. Manager Ned Yost helped wave the double fair (GIF via @cjzero):
How cool is that?
And -- and! -- Gordon saved a run with a tremendous running catch in the third inning to take at least a double away from Steve Pearce. I had a perfect view of the ball off the bat from my seat and I have no idea how Gordon ran it down. It was ticketed for the left-center field gap and extra bases. Amazing catch.
Honorable mention goes to Wade Davis, Kansas City's super eight-inning guy. He retired the side on seven pitches in the eighth and then cut through the heart of the Orioles' order on 11 pitches in the ninth. Six up, six down, four strikeouts. Tremendous job by Davis, which is no surprise because he's been tremendous all season.
Goat: Even though the Royals won, James Shields is the goat for letting a four-run lead slip away. The Royals were up first 4-0 and then 5-1, but his fifth inning meltdown made it a one-run game. Baltimore's hitters went 4-for-7 with a walk against him the third time through the order after going 3-for-9 with several hard-hit outs the second time through.
The signs of imminent danger were there, and as easy/cliche as it would be to crush Ned Yost for not going to bullpen sooner, Shields is the staff ace and the guy with the (increasingly undeserved) Big Game James nickname. A pitcher's ability to grind it out when he doesn't have everything working is what separates the goods from the greats, not the ability to dominate when everything's working. Shields was a bit off his game in Game 1 and he couldn't protect a four-run lead.
Honorable Mention: Billy Butler for the ground ball double play to end the ninth. Yeah, they won anyway, but still. All he's got to do -- not that it's easy, mind you -- is hit a medium-deep fly ball to score Alcides Escobar from third with the bases loaded and one out. To wit:
Royals win expectancy went from 72.1% to 36.8% on that Butler double play.— Red Sox Stats (@redsoxstats) October 11, 2014
Butler got bailed out by Gordon in the 10th. Zach Britton was nearly the goat for walking the bases loaded with no outs.
Turning point: Aside from the obvious -- Gordon's homer -- Ryan Flaherty's two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning made the game interesting. Shields had just struck out J.J. Hardy with the bases loaded -- the called strike three appeared to be generous, but the call is the call -- and was close to escaping the jam, but Flaherty jumped on the first pitch and turned a 5-2 game into a 5-4 game.
I know it was only the fifth inning and Shields' pitch count was a manageable 86, but he was flirting with disaster -- not only could the strike three to Hardy have easily been called a ball to force in a run, but the Orioles had several hard-hit outs both in that inning and the previous two innings as well -- and left-hander Brandon Finnegan* was in the bullpen ready to face the lefty Flaherty. Yost stuck with his ace and got burned.
* In the interest of full disclosure, Finnegan started the sixth inning and did not retire any of the three batters he faced. Perhaps something worse than a two-run single would have happened had he faced Flaherty. Then again, Flaherty has hit .198/.235/.395 against lefties in his three-year career. Who knows.
It was over when: Not when Mike Moustakas clubbed a two-run homer off Brian Matusz in the 10th, giving the Royals two important insurance runs. No, it was over when the last damn out was recorded. As good as Greg Holland is, the Orioles scored a run and put the tying run on base in the bottom of the 10th before he recorded the final out.
This is worth mentioning somewhere:
The Royals hit one home run in extra innings during the regular season. They have three in the playoffs.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) October 11, 2014
They hit two in the 10th inning, remember. Here's the win probability added (WPA) chart, which shows each team's chances of winning at any give point based on historical data:
Yeah, this one was hectic. Big swings in both directions, especially in the late innings. Heck, at one point in the fifth inning the Royals had a 91 pecent chance to win the game, then at one point in the sixth the Orioles had a 70 percent chance to win. Crazy, fun game.
Next: The Orioles and Royals will continue the ALCS with Game 2 on Saturday afternoon. That game is scheduled to begin at 4pm ET and although there will be rain in the morning, it's expected to clear out of the area well before first pitch.
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