Spotless relief becoming standard for Royals
Herrera escapes trouble; Davis collects second ALCS win; Holland locks it up
BALTIMORE -- It never gets routine. But watch the Royals' late-inning relievers hang up enough zeros and it will start to seem routine.
Kelvin Herrera created a huge jam for himself in the seventh inning on Saturday, then worked his way out of it, against the meat of the Orioles' batting order.
It was a high-wire act that began with him missing first base after taking a flip from Eric Hosmer, stepping awkwardly inside the bag. He quickly walked Alejandro De Aza and would give up a one-out single to Nelson Cruz, which was hit too hard for Nick Markakis to score from second. But then Herrera got the next two outs, the last helped by a running catch from the Everywhere Man, Lorenzo Cain, and Game 2 of the ALCS remained tied, 4-4.
Out behind the left-field fence, in the visiting bullpen, Wade Davis drew a line in the sand. "Here we are again,'' he said. "We're going to get it done somehow. Either that or we're going to play 19 innings.''
What Davis was telling himself was this: The Orioles aren't scoring any more runs, not today. He was right, too, with Kansas City rallying for two runs in the ninth inning to take a 6-4 victory and a 2-0 edge in the series, which shifts to Kauffman Stadium.
As usual, Davis was front and center with a scoreless eighth inning before Greg Holland came in to nail down the save, his fourth during the Royals' remarkable 6-0 start to the postseason. Davis was the winning pitcher, as he had been with two scoreless innings in the 10-inning victory in Game 1, and now the Kansas City bullpen is 5-0 in the postseason, with a 2.22 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.
There have been many keys to the Royals' success, but few have done more to create the overflowing confidence in the clubhouse than the knowledge that a bullpen packed with power arms can shut down opponents when it matters most.
"It seems to give our offense a chance to win, even though we might not do it right away,'' Alex Gordon said. "They keep shutting the door and giving our offense second and third chances to get the job done. Some of our hitters look like heroes, but it's them stepping up and keeping them there.''
No one appreciates the bullpen more than Ned Yost, the Royals' manager who stopped reading websites and listening to sports talk because he was tired of getting criticized. He had himself another good game at the end of the dugout in Game 2.
Yost takes a beating for his proclivity toward bunting, and in this game, Mike Moustakas' sacrifice in the ninth inning was almost as much of a factor as his solo homer off Orioles starter Bud Norris. Yost's handling of a bullpen that contributed 3 1/3 scoreless innings was immaculate.
While the Royals have become only the fourth team in history to open the postseason 6-0, they've yet to have an easy win. They refuse to crack.
"I think the teams we've had the last few years, we've played a lot of close games,'' Holland said. "The reason we're here now is we've learned how to win those games. When you learn how to win those close games, it sort of builds on itself. You know you can, so you never feel like you're out of it. You're one clutch hit or one defensive play from winning the game.''
It was Herrera, a 24-year-old from Tenares, Dominican Republic, who did the heaviest lifting Saturday. He struck out Adam Jones, the Orioles' No. 3 hitter, after Markakis and De Aza reached base to start the inning.
To say he impressed Jones would be an understatement. "Well,'' said the Orioles' center fielder, "he threw 98 with run, and then threw an 89-mph changeup and then threw a 99-mph two-seamer."
Davis says that Herrera may eventually pass him and Holland in terms of impact.
"[Herrera] has such an incredible arm,'' Davis said. "The difference in him from last year to this year is his approach is much less jittery, the game doesn't speed up on him as much. He's getting better and better. He's probably got the best stuff out of everybody. He's just on the cusp of being just as good or better than everybody.''
But it's hard to imagine anyone, especially a setup man, more valuable than Davis, the onetime fifth starter who accompanied James Shields from Tampa Bay to Kansas City two years ago. Both he and Holland have pitched in all six of the Royals' postseason games, bringing back memories of Darold Knowles working in all seven games of the 1973 World Series for Oakland.
Davis said he was a little tight when he got to Oriole Park at Camden Yards before noon on Saturday, after working a perfect eighth and ninth inning late Friday night. He had used his high-90s fastball and mid-90s cutter to strike out four of the six men he faced in Game 1 and fanned Ryan Flaherty to start Saturday's outing, muddied only by a two-out single grounded up the middle by Jonathan Schoop.
This guy is an absolute beast.
"You see it,'' Holland said. "It's borderline unbelievable, but it is believable because I've seen it all year. I'm starting to believe. His stuff is, like I said midway through the season, as good as there is in the big leagues, if not the best.''
Here's one bit of hope for the Orioles or whoever the Royals wind up facing in the World Series: Sometimes pitchers get tired, and the Kansas City relievers have been dealing with a heavy workload all season, and it has gotten heavier in recent weeks.
If Holland is worried, it sure doesn't show.
"It's been fine,'' he said. "You're in the postseason for the first time in 30 years. I couldn't care less how many times I'm out there. It's about winning the games. You've got those built-in off-days too. You'd like to win one by six or seven but, at the end of the day, if you have a chance to go win one for your ballclub, you're going to do it.''
Over and over and over again, in this case.