Royals emerge victorious in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Orioles, 8-6

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It wasn’t pretty — in fact, it was downright ugly at times — but the Royals have taken the first game of the American League Championship Series, defeating the Orioles at Camden Yards on Friday night by an 8-6 margin. The Royals used two 10th-inning home runs from Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas to slide past their foes in their quest to reach the World Series.

The Royals jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the third when Alcides Escobar hit a solo home run and Gordon cleared the bases, dunking a broken-bat double down the right field line. The Orioles responded with a run in the bottom of the third, and the Royals re-padded their lead to four runs with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly by Billy Butler. Orioles starter Chris Tillman was only able to record one out in the fifth inning before departing.

Royals starter James Shields began to falter, however, as the Orioles used a Nelson Cruz RBI double and a two-run Ryan Flaherty single to shave off a significant portion of their deficit. The Orioles tied the game in the sixth on an infield bloop single over the pitcher’s mound by Alejandro De Aza, knotting the game at five apiece.

The Orioles’ bullpen bent but did not break, particularly in the top of the ninth when closer Zach Britton loaded the bases on three consecutive walks. Britton and sidewinder Darren O’Day combined to escape the frame without allowing a runner to touch home. Royals relievers Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, meanwhile, combined for four spotless innings, allowing no hits or walks while striking out six.

O’Day took the mound again to begin the top of the 10th inning to face Alex Gordon, and he now wishes he hadn’t. Gordon greeted him with a well-struck solo home run to right field to break the 5-5 tie. The Royals continued to add on, however. After Salvador Perez, O’Day struck out Omar Infante, but that was the end of his night. Orioles manager Buck Showalter wanted the platoon advantage, so he brought in southpaw Brian Matusz to face Moustakas. Matusz misplaced a fastball, and Moustakas crushed it to right-center for a two-run round-tripper, pushing the Royals’ lead to 8-5.

Closer Greg Holland quickly got two outs in the bottom half of the ninth, but then found himself in some trouble in his attempt to close out the ballgame. The right-hander allowed a single to Flaherty and walked pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes. Flaherty came around to score when Delmon Young hit a ground ball single up the middle, making it 8-6. The Orioles had the tying run on first base in the legs of pinch-runner David Lough. Holland had the tall task of having to retire Nick Markakis, who already had three hits on the evening. Holland battled and got Markakis to hit a 4-3 ground out to, at long last, end the ballgame.

It was not pristine baseball, but it was entertaining, back-and-forth baseball that made for a thrilling opener to the ALCS. The post-season has already been memorable in so many ways, why should the Championship Series be any different?

The two clubs will match up for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon, as Royals starter Yordano Ventura will face Bud Norris on the Orioles’ side.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.