Angels in the outfield? For KC, it's Aoki and Cain
ANAHEIM -- Nori Aoki wasn't about to let Lorenzo Cain have all the fun in the Angel Stadium outfield Thursday night.
It was Cain, the Royals' center fielder, who stole the show early on in Kansas City's 3-2 win in 11 innings, robbing Angels leadoff man Kole Calhoun with a spectacular leaping grab at the right-field wall in the first. Then, Cain dove to snag an Erick Aybar liner an inning later.
But it wasn't long until Aoki joined the party.
"We have a great outfield, and I'm just trying to keep up with everyone else," Aoki kidded after the game.
Twice in the late innings, the Angels looked poised to grab a lead with a two-out, extra-base hit to right field.
Twice, Aoki jogged off the field sporting a wry smile, with the ball in glove and the scoreboard showing a tie game.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the Royals won on the strength of their defense Thursday night. They've got defensive talent across the board -- specifically in an outfield that is arguably the best in baseball.
"It feels like there's five guys out there when they make plays like that," said Royals starter Jason Vargas, who went six innings. "It seems like there's nothing that can't be covered. When a ball goes in the air, it feels like the only way it's got a chance is when it goes over the fence."
Vargas' reaction to Cain's first outstanding grab sums up the story of the outfield's entire night. After Cain leaped to snatch Calhoun's fly ball just before it hit about 10 feet up on the wall, Vargas simply stood on the mound, mouth agape.
With an offense that doesn't boast much power, the Royals know they aren't going to win games unless they can prevent runs. But Thursday night was special -- even by Kansas City's standards.
"That's the way we're built," Cain said. "We're built to play defense and speed. I'm just trying to be a playmaker for our pitchers."
While Cain's catches were certainly jaw-dropping, Aoki's were a bit more timely. In both cases, the go-ahead run was in scoring position and could have walked home if Aoki hadn't made the play.
With two on and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Angels cleanup man Howie Kendrick launched a Vargas offering to the right-center-field gap.
Both Aoki and Cain converged on the ball, mere inches from the wall. Cain couldn't quite make the play, but Aoki was there, deftly avoiding Cain while still making a spectacular sidearmed catch.
"I saw Cain and I saw the ball," Aoki said through a translator. "The ball was slicing toward me a little bit, so I just stuck out my glove out there."
It appeared as though Aoki braced himself for a collision at the last second, taking his eye off the baseball. If that were the case, he was lucky the ball found his glove at such a pivotal moment.
Aoki, however, insists he saw it the whole way.
Of course, it doesn't matter. From Cain's perspective, whether Aoki looked away or not, Aoki made the catch that doubled as the turning point of the entire game.
"I tried to jump and avoid him at the same time, and I completely whiffed on the ball -- missed it," Cain said. "He stepped up and made the play for us. That was a huge, huge, huge catch."
An inning later C.J. Cron stepped up with a man on third and two outs, and he lifted one toward the right-field corner. Aoki said afterward that the ball moved awkwardly in the wind. That would explain the uncharacteristic path he took.
Once Aoki reached the warning track, he noticed the ball had tailed to his left. He adjusted and took six strides -- yes, six! -- straight toward the right-field corner before laying out to make the play.
For the fourth time on the night, the Royals' outfield defense -- as it's done all season -- had held strong when it mattered most.