KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mike Moustakas had his eye on the ball from the moment it left Adam Jones’s bat, tracking it against the bright lights of Kauffman Stadium. When it settled into his glove and he tumbled into a dugout suite, a dozen fans were waiting to pick him right back up.
Just like Moustakas has picked up his team during its perfect post-season.
The third baseman with the four playoff homers dazzled with his glove Tuesday night. And when Billy Butler drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, the long-downtrodden Kansas City Royals were on their way to a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles and a commanding 3-0 lead in their AL Championship Series.
“It really did fire up the whole stadium,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said of his teammate’s circus catch. “Hats off to the fans in the dugout suite, pick him up and put him back on the field. That was great. Moose finding ways to get it done.”
The entire team has found ways to get it done. The wild-card Royals have won 10 straight post-season games, including all seven this year, in their first playoff appearance in 29 years.
The only thing that’s slowed Kansas City so far was a rainout Monday.
“We’ve got a snowball effect going right now,” Butler said. “The confidence couldn’t be any higher. That’s when you come to the park each day, focus on the next pitch, focus on your job and just not be the guy to end the streak.”
Fresh off a combined three-hitter, Kansas City will send Jason Vargas to the mound for Game 4 on Wednesday, trying to advance to its first World Series since 1985. Miguel Gonzalez will go to the mound for the Orioles.
“It’s hard to take advantage of mistakes when they’re not making any,” Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce said. “This is tough, man. We’ve got one loss left. We’ve got to find a way to start pulling this out. 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 leage post-season 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.”
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.
In all, Kansas City pitchers retired the final 16 batters.
It was the 13th game to be decided by one run this post-season, 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 this night, temporarily silencing a frigid, flag-waving capacity crowd.
It happened in the second inning, when Pearce and J.J. Hardy hit 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 Royals put together one of their quintessential innings: a pair of bloop singles, a walk and a tying RBI groundout.
The Royals played catch up with their gloves, too.
Moustakas made a diving grab to rob Pearce of a single in the fourth. Then in the sixth, he tracked that popup by Jones into foul territory, steadied himself at a railing near the dugout, then extended himself to catch the ball and tumbled into the stands.
“They were both tremendous plays,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
The blue-clad crowd rose to its feet to give Moustakas a rousing cheer, and many fans were still standing when Butler drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom half of the inning.
By the time the Royals’ “Big Three” of Herrera, Davis and Holland had closed it out, the Royals were on the verge of another post-season sweep.
“We’ve got to zone in on the task at hand,” Holland said. “They’re not going to lay down. We understand that.”