Even if Game 2 against the Royals on Friday night felt like a must-win situation, it wasn't one. But, man, it sure did feel like one.
An 11th-inning home run by Eric Hosmer absolutely sucked the life out of a weary crowd of 45,361 at Angel Stadium, giving the Royals a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. And if the Angels are to make a comeback after Friday's 4-1 loss, it will be of the epic variety.
Not only does the series shift to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where the crowd will be rocking the blue, but the Royals have their ace, James Shields, set to start against the Angels' No. 3 starter, C.J. Wilson. And he's a No. 3 starter for a reason, having a 5.64 ERA over his last 20 starts.
That's a whole big pile of trouble, even if it's trouble for another day.
Given that unfavorable matchup, the Angels needed to beat rookie Yordano Ventura after losing the opener on a Mike Moustakas homer, also in the 11th inning. But Ventura and Kansas City's power arms in the bullpen kept Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in check, buying time for the Royals to get their record-setting third consecutive extra-inning postseason victory.
It capped a splendid, captivating day of postseason baseball. All four of the Division Series games were either one-run or extra-inning games, and every one of them included decisive twists and turns that you couldn't have seen coming.
While the Royals winning behind Ventura and the bullpen wasn't as surprising as Jake Peavy beating Stephen Strasburg, would you have thought that two games into this Trout, Pujols and Hamilton would be a combined 1-for-25? That it would be the fledgling Royals tightening the screws on the team loaded with players who have October pedigrees?
"I think our guys are relaxed," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't think it's anything about not being relaxed while they're performing. Those guys [with the Royals] are playing the way they played all season. They have some things in their game that does not go into a slump. The way they run the bases does not go into a slump. They way you can put the ball in play, that's usually not going to go into a slump. Our club is really on that batter's box offensive side right now, and we need to start squaring some balls up better. … I think [we're] playing loose. We're just not executing some things the way we need to."
Scioscia properly credited Royals outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Nori Aoki for making outstanding plays to frustrate the Angels in Thursday night's opener, when the Royals won while sending Jason Vargas against Scioscia's ace, Jered Weaver. Kansas City's fielding was almost as sharp Friday, with the play of the game being made by Jarrod Dyson, who had just entered as a defensive replacement in a 1-1 tie.
His throw to third base cut down pinch-runner Collin Cowgill, who was trying to advance on a liner to center by Chris Iannetta in the eighth inning. That was part of a 1-for-6 day with runners in scoring position for the Angels, with Pujols driving in the lone run on a sixth-inning single.
Kansas City's bullpen has worked nine scoreless innings in the two ALDS games, which Royals manager Ned Yost calls "phenomenal." In addition to All-Star closer Greg Holland and superb setup man Wade Davis, unsung veteran Jason Frasor and 2014 draftee Brandon Finnegan have climbed aboard the Royals' crazy train.
Trout, seemingly a lock for the AL MVP Award, contributed to the Angels' one run by fighting his way out of an 0-2 hole to draw a two-out walk. But he's gone 0-for-4 in both losses, and on Friday, he didn't hit a ball out of the infield.
"We're having good at-bats, just missing our pitches," said Trout, who was also thrown out trying to steal second base in the first inning Friday. "It's tough, but we're going to turn the page and try to win on Sunday."
Yost knows his pitchers can't keep the Angels quiet forever, but he sure wouldn't mind if it lasted through Sunday, at the least.
"They've very potent and very dangerous, that offense is," Yost said. "You go all the way down that lineup, and their whole lineup is dangerous, but you get into Trout, Pujols, [Howie] Kendrick, Hamilton, they're all one swing away from putting some runs on the board. But we've done a good job of pitching to our plan and making pitches on them."
When Scioscia was asked about Trout's hitless series, he said it wasn't fair to single anybody out. But there's one Angels player who almost can't help being scrutinized.
Hamilton, who hasn't lived up to his five-year, $125 million contract, reportedly received 12 cortisone shots in 12 days in his chest, back and shoulder while trying to get healthy to play in the postseason. He's 0-for-9 so far and only 3-for-25 career against Shields, so don't be surprised if Scioscia starts Cowgill in Game 3 on Sunday.
If the Angels can beat Shields in front of a ballpark full of extremely noisy Royals fans, they will be one-third of the way to the winning streak they need to advance -- and that would figure to be the toughest one-third.
But until then, the Royals will continue to enjoy putting pressure on other people, while it slides off their backs.
"It's a bunch of guys in there that believe that we can do it," Hosmer said. "We don't listen. We honestly don't care what other people are saying. We're just going to grind it through, and we're battling. I know teams right now don't want to face us. … It's fun to be the underdog. It's fun to realize [that] and go out there and play. You don't have anything to lose, and just put it all on the line."
Spoken like a member of the Angels, circa 2002, not 2014.