Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
After the miraculous Wild-Card game win (Spoiler! You’ll see that game later on in this list.), the Royals seemed to sprint to the World Series in just a couple of days. Of course, it took longer than that, but sweeping the ALDS and ALCS made it seem so quick and easy.
It’s easy to forget now, but in the Division Series, the Royals had to face a formidable foe in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels went 98-64, winning the AL West by 10 full games over the Oakland A’s team Kansas City had just overcome in the Wild Card game. Los Angeles was led by Mike Trout, but every single starter in their lineup for this game (their regular starting lineup, in fact) had an OPS+ over 100 for the 2014 season, meaning they were all above league average offensively at their position, most of them well above average.
On the mound, the Angels were not quite as scary, but with four starters picking up at least 13 wins, they were certainly solid. One of that quartet, C.J. Wilson, was manager Mike Scioscia’s choice to start this game, looking to extend the Angels’ season after the Royals had won the first two games in Anaheim, both 11-inning affairs.
Trout put the Angels in front with a solo home run in the first inning against James Shields. But the Royals’ roll continued in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Nori Aoki singled, as did Lorenzo Cain. With two outs, Billy Butler drew a walk to load the bases, and Alex Gordon doubled off the wall in left-center. All three runs scored, with Butler sliding in just ahead of the tag.
With their backs to the wall, the Angels could not afford to fall further behind, so Scioscia went to his bullpen. Vinnie Pestano got the final out of the first and the first out in the second. Hector Santiago finished the second but walked Aoki to start the third. With one out in that inning, Eric Hosmer slammed his second home run of the series, putting the Royals in front, 5-1.
Now the Angels were in serious trouble. Everyone knew the Royals’ formula for winning: build an early lead, then turn it over to the HDH bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland to lock it down. Los Angeles now had three innings to work with before that happened.
Because this was a game in Kauffman Stadium, the Angels’ Albert Pujols was required to hit a home run, which he did to lead off the fourth. With one out, Erick Aybar doubled and Shields hit David Freese with a pitch. But Shields escaped by getting Josh Hamilton to ground into a force out at second, then striking out C.J. Cron to end the inning.
The Royals got that run back almost immediately, as Mike Moustakas homered with one out in the bottom of the fourth off reliever Mike Morin. Alcides Escobar followed with a single, took second on a wild pitch, and reached third on Aoki’s infield single. Cain hit a sacrifice fly to give the Royals a 7-2 lead.
With the bullpen trio looming and the Royals’ “keep the line moving” offense having built that lead, Kansas City decided it was time to show off their skills in another phase of the game, with defense. The Angels started a rally with one out in the fifth, as Kole Calhoun singled and Trout walked. Pujols stepped to the plate and hit a sinking line drive into left center. Cain raced over and made an incredible diving catch for the second out. Howie Kendrick followed with another sinking liner to center, this one right at Cain, who had been positioned perfectly from a directional standpoint. This time, he had to race forward and snare it with another sliding catch, popping to his feet and exhorting his teammates, the crowd, and everyone watching at home. The rally was over, and the series was as well, for all practical purposes.
The Royals added a run in the sixth, as Omar Infante led off with a walk and scored on one-out singles by Escobar and Aoki. The party was on as manager Ned Yost, as expected, turned the game over to his bullpen trio. Davis had a rare hiccup in the eighth, as Kendrick led off with a double and stopped at third on Aybar’s infield single. But Davis struck out two of the next three hitters, although Josh Hamilton brought in one run with a groundout. Holland finished out the game with a perfect ninth, striking out Trout to end it and the series.
This was the Royals’ first postseason series win since the 1985 World Series, and although it seemed like a foregone conclusion after they won the first two games in Anaheim, it was still important that KC finish it out and not allow the Angels any momentum. Also, the Royals’ opponent in the ALCS, the Baltimore Orioles, had finished off their own surprising ALDS sweep earlier in the day, defeating Detroit to advance. For a team that was highly dependent on their bullpen, every extra day of rest was a bonus.
In a fitting footnote, the Angels became the second team since the divisional era started in 1969 to have the best record in the majors and get swept in a playoff series. The first? The 1980 New York Yankees, who of course were removed from the postseason by the Royals.