KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Ned Yost often jokes about the talismanic powers of Alcides Escobar as their leadoff hitter, but in the seventh inning of a series-tying, stress-reducing, mojo-restoring 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros, the Kansas City Royals experienced a bit of magic.
"I'm not sure what happened," outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. "I'm just happy it fell."
A two-run deficit erased going into the late innings, Escobar pounced on a first-pitch cutter from reliever Will Harris. His drive drifted between center fielder Jake Marisnick and right fielder George Springer. The fleet-footed defenders sprinted through bits of sun and shadow, only to watch the baseball land in the grass of Kauffman Stadium.
Escobar sprinted all the way to third, a "game-changing play," third baseman Mike Moustakas said. The triple sent the crowd, unnerved by a Game 1 defeat and wounded by Johnny Cueto's dispiriting start in Game 2 of this American League Division Series, into hysterics. A go-ahead single by Ben Zobrist only heightened the volume.
Zobrist pumped his fist as he ran to first base, an exhortation to his teammates and a reminder to his opponents: Houston, we have a series.
"Down 0-1 in a series, we're not panicking or anything," Moustakas said. "We're going to go out there and try to find a way to win."
This best-of-five series is tied 1-1. The Royals avoided the pressure of heading to Houston in need of a three-game sweep. The hitters exhibited patience and restraint. They built rallies based on walks and opposite-field hits.
"Championship teams win those type of games right there," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
Cueto survived a rocky opening to throw six innings. He gave up four runs, including Colby Rasmus' third home run in as many games this postseason, and a two-run single to Springer. Cueto did not resemble an ace the Royals expected him to be when they acquired him in July, but he kept his team within range.
"In the beginning, he didn't feel as strong," said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Cueto. "But then he was able to settle down and locate."
Cueto's teammates eventually broke through against Scott Kazmir the Houston bullpen, with a two-run rally in the sixth. Salvador Perez hit a solo homer in the second and collected a bases-loaded walk in the sixth to tie the score.