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Royals' defense golden in preserving win over Yanks

Escobar, Hosmer able to execute what proved to be several game-saving plays

KANSAS CITY -- This one was an exhibit entered by the defense -- the defense played by two members of the Kansas City Royals in particular.

First baseman Eric Hosmer won a Gold Glove Award in 2013. Shortstop Alcides Escobar hasn't won a Gold Glove, but with his ability, the award ought to be a question of when, not if.

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Hosmer and Escobar repeatedly made run-saving defensive plays in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Yankees. In a closely-contested, low-scoring game, their defense made all the difference.

Escobar began the defensive highlights reel, at the first opportunity. With none out and a runner on first base in the first inning, Derek Jeter hit a smash deep into the hole. Escobar made a diving stop, and then threw out Jeter from his knees with a hard, accurate throw.

"That's a nice play," Escobar said and then added with a smile:

"When Derek Jeter came back to second base, he said: 'You no mas amigo. No more friends.' "

As impressive as Escobar's stop was, the throw from his knees was every bit as good.

"I was thinking that I have to throw the ball as quick as I can in that situation," Escobar said. "That's not an easy play."

The next batter, Jacoby Ellsbury, hit a comebacker to the mound. James Shields gloved it, but his toss to first got away from him. It soared high, but then so did Hosmer, who recorded the out at first.

"That's what [Shields] likes to do. As soon as he gets it, he likes to get rid of it," Hosmer said and added with a smile: "I knew he was going to throw it and I think it just took off out of his hand. I really didn't jump that high. I made it look a lot better than it was."

In the second, with the bases loaded and one out, Hosmer made what turned out to be a game-saving decision. Brett Gardner hit a ball sharply in back of first. Hosmer gloved it, and rather than taking the easier, obvious play at first and conceding a run, he made a quick, strong throw to the plate to force Yangervis Solarte.

In a 2-1 game, that play turned out to be a real difference-maker. Hosmer's logic in making this play turned out to be flawless.

"Just basically with Gardner running, there's not a very good chance of getting a double play," Hosmer said. "You know you're getting one out either way. I told myself I was not going to play too far back and if he hit it good enough, I was going to make sure I got the out at home. But the way Gardner has been swinging, you can't really play in, because you want to gain some range.

"That was the thought process. If it's hit hard, right at me, go home with it. If it's hit hard, go for it right there. Turned out to be a big play."

The Royals are a superior team, and these plays underscored the importance of their defense.

"That play that Esky made in the first inning was tremendous," manager Ned Yost said. "The play that Hoz made with the bases loaded to get the force out at the plate was as big. It was a one-run game. We won, 2-1.

"A lot of first basemen would just take the out at first. It's early in the game. But Hoz made a great play there. And it turned out it was probably a game-saving play for us."

In the third, Hosmer very likely saved another run.

With no outs and a runner on second, Carlos Beltran hit a smash well wide of first. Hosmer ranged to his right, made a diving stop and flipped to Shields covering to get the out and keep the runner from advancing further than third. Shields struck out the next two batters to keep the Yankees off the board again.

"With a lot of these guys, you want to play real deep," Hosmer said. "Some of these guys aren't running that well, so you want to get as much range as possible. With [Beltran], I'm playing way back there. Looking back on it now, it might have been a ball that [second baseman] Omar [Infante] could have got, but I figured Shields is real athletic, he can get over [to first], so I'm just trying to get anything I can."

In the fifth inning, it was Escobar's turn again. A looping line drive hit by Ellsbury looked like a sure bet to land safely in left-center. But Escobar raced out and made a leaping, lunging grab.

Shields, who won his seventh game of the season, was suitably appreciative of the defensive support.

"They've been making plays like that all season long," Shields said.

This was a terrific display of defense that resulted in a very encouraging victory for the Royals.

As Escobar put it: "We had great defense today, great pitching for both sides, that's a great game."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Kansas City Royals, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer