Moose sticks with it, delivers two big hits
Royals third baseman ties game, adds insurance in ALCS Game 2 win
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals tried coaching and coaxing to get Mike Moustakas' career on a roll. Finally, it came down to tough love.
It was late May a year ago, and Moustakas was sent back to Triple-A Omaha. It was make-or-break time. He was about to turn 26. It had been seven years since Moustakas had been the second selection overall in the 2007 Draft. And he was in his fifth big league season, hitting .152.
The Royals felt Moustakas was strong enough that even if he didn't pull every pitch, he could still hit the ball out of the ballpark. They were convinced that if teams were going to make those shifts on him thanks to their analytic studies, it was going to open up a whole new avenue of offense if he went the other way.
They were right. And all of a sudden, that impact bat that Kansas City had envisioned when the club had signed the left-handed-hitting Moustakas out of high school arrived. He opened eyes in the postseason a year ago, with five home runs and seven RBIs.
And Moustakas has made arguably an even bigger impression this postseason, dealing with adversity and surviving. He broke out of a 2-for-24 postseason slump with two of the most critical hits in the Royals' rally from a 3-0 deficit against Blue Jays lefty David Price to pull out a 6-3 victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, putting Kansas City up, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series (Game 3 on Monday, 7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. game time).
It was Moustakas who yanked a game-tying single into right field in the midst of a five-run seventh off Price, against whom Moustakas had only one hit in nine previous career at-bats. For good measure, he singled home an insurance run in the eighth.
It's a whole new ballgame for Moustakas.
"Before, he would struggle and start to press,'' said manager Ned Yost. "Now he struggles and continues to stay focused on getting out of it. He doesn't press. He's got enough confidence in his ability to know he's one good swing away from getting hot again.''
Here's the thing. The key for Moustakas is that he learned to drive the ball the other way. That's opened up the right side, which is where he pulled both hits Saturday. When Moustakas was a dead pull hitter, teams would shift three infielders to the right side of the infield. Now that he's shown he can drive the ball with power to left field as well, defenses have to be more honest.
What took so long? Blame it on youthful stubbornness.
What woke Moustakas up? A trip back in time, a return last season to Triple-A Omaha, where he had spent parts of the 2010 and '11 seasons.
Don't believe it? Ask Moustakas himself.
"I didn't want to hit .212 again and I didn't want to go back to Triple-A again,'' he said. "I knew I was a better hitter than that. With all the data that's collected nowadays and all the stats and spreadsheets that everyone gets, you don't get those hits in the hole [hole between second base and first base] anymore.''
It is an approach that has been critical to Moustakas' success and more importantly to the Royals' success. In 247 regular-season games since his return, he has hit .266 with 33 home runs, tied with Salvador Perez for Kansas City's team lead in that stretch. Moustakas' 119 RBIs are nine behind team leader Eric Hosmer and eight fewer than Perez.
The Royals were 26-29 and in third place in the AL Central, 6 1/2 games out of first place, when Moustakas rejoined them a year ago. With him back, they are an AL-best 158-111 (.587) in the regular season and went to the World Series before losing in seven games to the Giants a year ago. This year, they knocked off the Astros in the AL Division Series and have two of the four wins that are necessary to eliminate the Blue Jays in the ALCS and make a Fall Classic appearance for the second consecutive year.
And Moustakas is challenging the struggles that come with the game instead of giving into them.
"I haven't been getting a lot of hits, but I've been putting together good at-bats,'' Moustakas said of his focus after struggling in this year's first six postseason games. "That keeps me going. It's nice when you're getting together quality at-bats, even if you are not getting hits.''
It's even better when the results match the at-bats.