ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals went a few more extra innings, withstood a few more scares and figured out another dramatic way to win a playoff game.
Mike Moustakas homered leading off the 11th inning, and the Royals kept rolling in their first postseason in 29 years with a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in their AL Division Series opener Thursday night.READ MORE: Police Seeking 2 Men Who Carjacked Woman And Family Members During A Delivery in Ford Heights
Moustakas hit the first extra-inning homer in postseason history for the Royals, a high shot off Fernando Salas that barely reached the elevated right-field stands at Angel Stadium.
“It’s probably the biggest one I’ve ever hit so far,” said Moustakas, a Los Angeles native who had dozens of friends and family members in the stands. “It felt really amazing.”
Alcides Escobar had an early RBI double for the Royals, and their bullpen repeatedly escaped trouble in Kansas City’s first game since that spectacular, 12-inning comeback victory over Oakland in the wild-card playoff Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Friday night at the Big A, with Angels 16-game winner Matt Shoemaker taking on fellow rookie Yordano Ventura.
Chris Iannetta and David Freese homered early in the Angels’ first playoff game since 2009, but the majors’ most productive offense stranded eight runners in the five innings before Greg Holland’s perfect 11th.
Winning pitcher Danny Duffy worked the 10th for Kansas City, and Holland picked up the save after arriving at the ballpark around the fourth inning. He went to North Carolina on the Royals’ off day to attend his child’s birth.
Mike Trout was 0 for 4 with a walk in his playoff debut. The favorite for AL MVP grounded into a fielder’s choice in the 10th before Albert Pujols popped out to end his 0-for-4 Angels playoff debut. Josh Hamilton popped out to end the game, capping his 0-for-5 return to the lineup.
“We had some guys in scoring position, just couldn’t get that one hit, especially late,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Those guys hung in there and got the big outs and got the big hit late. So we hit two home runs to keep ourselves in the game, but outside of that, we didn’t really pressure those guys very much.”
Jered Weaver, Joe Smith and Huston Street combined to retire Kansas City’s final 15 batters before extra innings — and that’s when the Royals went to work. Kevin Jepsen let two runners on in the 10th, but retired Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to escape.
Salas wasn’t as lucky, giving up a homer to the Royals’ No. 9 hitter. Moustakas grew up in the San Fernando Valley and played at UCLA before making his big league debut and hitting his first homer in Anaheim.READ MORE: Chicagoan David Kronfeld Shares Advice To Career Success In New Book
“We’ve been doing it any way we can,” Moustakas said. “It’s somebody different every night.”
A raucous crowd banged balloons and cheered on the Angels throughout their postseason return after a half-decade away, but the fans got tense while the teams managed just three hits apiece in the first nine innings. Los Angeles earned home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a big league-best 98-64 record in the regular season, winning the AL West while scoring 773 runs.
The Royals can’t match Los Angeles’ offense on paper, but they’ve got some remarkable postseason mojo.
Even before Moustakas’ homer, Nori Aoki made dramatically awkward catches on the right-field warning track to end the sixth and seventh, twice making up for poor routes to the Angels’ drives with a last-instant stab. Lorenzo Cain also made two exceptional plays in center field in the first two innings, underlining Kansas City’s stellar defense.
“Lorenzo Cain is one of the best center fielders in baseball, and Aoki made some unbelievable plays,” Moustakas said. “We were able to cut their rallies down a little bit on some of the huge catches there in right field and center field, and hats off to those guys.”
Weaver yielded three hits over seven strong innings for the Angels while his good friend, Jason Vargas, pitched six innings of three-hit ball for Kansas City.
Weaver and Vargas played together at nearby Long Beach State and again with the Angels last year. They’re taking a vacation together after the season — but first, the former Dirtbags dueled through 6 1/2 tense innings in Orange County.
After Escobar put the Royals ahead, Los Angeles tied it when Iannetta drove a fastball into the bullpens in his first career playoff at-bat. While Trout’s October debut received all the pregame attention, the Angels’ tough catcher also got his first postseason experience after sitting out twice when his Colorado Rockies made the playoffs.
Kansas City went back ahead in the fifth when Alex Gordon doubled and scored on Infante’s sacrifice fly, but Freese tied it again with another drive to the bullpens in left. Freese, the MVP of the 2011 World Series and NLCS for St. Louis, got his 24th postseason extra-base hit and 30th RBI in his Angels playoff debut.
The Angels put two runners on against a tiring Vargas in the sixth, and Royals fans might have had bitter flashbacks to manager Ned Yost’s much-debated, sixth-inning pitching decisions in the wild-card game. But Aoki saved Kansas City when he blindly nabbed Howie Kendrick’s drive to the warning track in right.
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