After trying season, Moustakas a hero in October
Third baseman reflects on biggest homer of his young career
ANAHEIM -- Mike Moustakas didn't know whether the pitch was a changeup or a fastball. He couldn't hear the dozens of friends and family members in attendance going crazy, while the rest of Angel Stadium fell silent.
"I wish I could have enjoyed it more," the Royals third-baseman-turned-hero said after his 11th-inning home run had propelled the Royals to a 3-2 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. "But everything was happening so fast."
Moustakas may not have been able to enjoy the moment as it happened, after launching a 1-1 delivery from Angels right-hander Fernando Salas. But the Chatsworth, Calif., native was certainly able to appreciate its importance afterward.
"I was able to square it up and ended up getting it out of the yard," said Moustakas, who hit his first career homer in Anaheim in 2011 and went to high school about 55 miles north of Angel Stadium. "As far as how big of a home run that is, that's probably the biggest one I've ever hit."
And one of the biggest ever for the Royals. It was the first extra-inning home run in Royals postseason history. It was also the first one Moustakas has hit in a long, long time. His last big fly came on Aug. 25 as the lone run in an 8-1 loss to the Yankees.
Sure, there's plenty of pop in Moustakas' bat -- he hit 15 home runs on the season. He also isn't a stranger to coming up with a homer late. Moustakas hit the only extra-inning home run for the Royals in the regular season when he went deep in the 11th inning in Houston on April 16. But the 26-year-old former first-round Draft pick spent much of the season trying to harness that power.
He struggled so much early on that the Royals sent him to Triple-A Omaha at the end of May after his average had dipped to .152 after 45 games.
Moustakas' confidence -- in himself and in his team, which had just fallen below .500 and seven games back of the Tigers on the night he was demoted -- never wavered.
"I knew this was a postseason team," Moustakas said. "This team is such a good team, and we have such good chemistry here that I knew we were going to be able to make a postseason push.
"I needed to go down there and figure some things out -- figure out my swing, get back on track. I was able to do that."
Moustakas' hard work was rewarded with his manager's faith in the biggest moment of his young career. Royals skipper Ned Yost had talked earlier in the day about constructing his postseason roster with the possibility of having to pinch-hit for Moustakas.
Fortunately for the Royals, the left-handed-hitting Moustakas never came to bat against a southpaw.
"Moose hit 15 homers on the year," Yost said. "But none of them were as big as that was right there, that's for sure."
Moustakas said he stepped into the box to lead off the 11th with the sole goal of reaching base. If he could get to first, he said, "we had Jarrod Dyson on the bench, ready to go, ready to steal second."
Instead, he found himself circling the bases, silencing a raucous Angel Stadium crowd with one swing. Even after Moustakas hit the ball, he wasn't sure it would leave the yard.
It did. The Royals took the lead. (Yes, the small-ball Royals won a playoff game with the long ball). And closer Greg Holland recorded the final three outs for the save shortly thereafter.
"It's a crazy feeling right now," Moustakas said. "But at the end of the day, we're out here to win ballgames. Me coming back home, all that stuff -- it's nice, it's fun. But at the end of the day, we've got a job to do, and that's to win ballgames."
For Moustakas, Thursday night was a job well done.