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.