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Royal Flush: KC sweeps O's for 1st AL crown since '85

Oct 16, 2014 - 1:29 AM Kansas City, MO ( - After nearly three decades of toiling as one of baseball's peasants, the Kansas City Royals are once again kings of the American League.

Behind yet another outstanding effort from their overlooked pitching staff, the remarkable Royals finished off a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles with a 2-1 triumph in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series to reach the Fall Classic for the first time since 1985.

Alcides Escobar came through with two hits and the game's biggest play in Kansas City's eighth consecutive win of this postseason, knocking the ball loose from Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph on a first-inning slide that enabled the first two runs to score.

Jason Vargas and a bullpen that's been virtually impenetrable during these playoffs took it from there, with the Orioles mustering a mere three hits other than Ryan Flaherty's solo home run in the third inning.

Vargas (1-0) yielded just two hits, including Flaherty's blast, and a walk over 5 1/3 effective innings before the trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland once again slammed the door on the AL East champions.

Kansas City now gets a chance to rest before continuing their unforeseen run, with Game 1 of the World Series to be held Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals will face either San Francisco or in-state rival St. Louis, whom they toppled in seven games in 1985 to capture their only world title.

The eight straight victories to begin a postseason established a new MLB record, breaking the mark of seven in a row set by the 1976 Cincinnati Reds and matched by the 2007 Colorado Rockies.

"These kids, from the minute you saw them you knew they were going to be special," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "Then they won championships in A ball together and they won championships in Double-A together and they won championships in Triple-A together. And then their goal was to get up here and win a championship, and today they accomplished that."

Though he didn't have a hit in three at-bats in the clincher, Lorenzo Cain garnered ALCS MVP honors after going 8-for-15 with five runs scored over the four games.

"A lot of guys stepped up," said Cain. "Our entire bullpen, lights out the entire postseason. "Moose (Mike Moustakas), Hos (Eric Hosmer), Billy (Butler), a lot guys stepped up. Any of those guys or even the entire bullpen is definitely deserving."

Baltimore amassed 96 regular-season wins on the strength of one of the league's most powerful offenses, but had its bats silenced for a second straight night. The Orioles managed only three hits in dropping Tuesday's Game 3, also by a 2-1 count.

"They made great plays when they needed them," Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis said of the Royals. "They kept us out of big innings. Pitching and defense they say wins. They did a good job of both this series."

Joseph's costly error helped spoil a solid performance by Miguel Gonzalez (0-1), who walked four batters and hit two more but permitted just the two early runs -- only one of which was earned -- over 5 2/3 innings of work.

The confident Royals wasted little time ratcheting up the pressure on the desperate Orioles. Escobar started the bottom of the first by legging out an infield single and Gonzalez's next pitch hit Nori Aoki in the foot to quickly put two on. Yost then opted to have his red-hot No. 3 hitter, Cain, drop down a sacrifice bunt to send both runners in scoring position.

The unconventional move paid off when Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce fielded Eric Hosmer's slow chopper and fired to the plate, where Escobar slid right into Joseph's glove to send the ball rolling near the backstop and allow Aoki to race home from second and place Baltimore in a near-instant 2-0 hole.

"The two runs they scored, they didn't hit a ball out of the infield," Orioles manager Buck Showalter remarked. "Some of that was self-inflicted. Steve made a good choice because where Caleb has to set up nowadays, it makes it tougher to tag outs."

Flaherty hammered a Vargas fastball just inside the right-field foul pole to open the third and cut the lead in half, but neither team could come through with a run over the next six innings despite both having opportunities.

Vargas walked Adam Jones to lead off the fourth but came away unscathed, and Alex Gordon made an outstanding running catch while slamming into the wall in left to rob J.J. Hardy of extra bases an inning afterward.

The Royals had a chance to extend the margin in their half of the fifth, as Aoki reached on a fielder's choice and later advanced to third on a Gonzalez wild pitch and Cain's groundout. However, Billy Butler hit into a force play following an intentional walk to Hosmer to keep it a one-run game.

Another leadoff walk issued by Vargas, this one to Jonathan Schoop, led to a Baltimore threat in the sixth. He recovered to strike out Nick Markakis before being replaced by Herrera, who yielded a two-out single to Jones that moved the tying run to third with the dangerous Nelson Cruz at the plate.

Cruz hit a bullet in the clutch situation, but it went right to second baseman Omar Infante on a line drive to preserve Kansas City's 2-1 edge.

It turned out to be Baltimore's last gasp. Herrera cruised through the seventh and Davis gave up just a two-out single to Markakis in the eighth. Though Holland walked Jones to start the ninth, the All-Star closer set down the next three hitters, capped by Hardy's grounder to third that sent the over 40,000 fans in attendance into a frenzy.

Holland saved all four games of the series, each of which the Royals won by either one or two runs.

Game Notes

Yost became the first manager in MLB history to win his first eight postseason games, breaking a tie he held with then-Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle in 2007 ... Counting their three wins to close out the 1985 World Series, the Royals have now prevailed in 11 straight postseason tests, one shy of the major league record owned by the Yankees from 1927-32 and again from 1998-99 ... Kansas City's bullpen has surrendered just three runs over 28 innings (a 0.96 ERA) through the past seven games ... Cain became the first No. 3 hitter since San Diego's Steve Garvey in 1984 to record a sacrifice in the first inning of a playoff game ... None of Flaherty's seven homers during the regular season came on the road ... The 2004 Red Sox remain the only one of 34 all-time teams to trail a series 3-0 and come back to win.