(SportsNetwork.com) - It's been 29 long years since the Kansas City Royals have been in this position. Who can blame them for wanting to stick around a little longer?
After one of the more thrilling games in baseball history the Royals continue their first postseason run since 1985 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
Kansas City outlasted Oakland in Tuesday's wild card game, as Salvador Perez's 12th-inning single scored Christian Colon to give the Royals a wild 9-8 come- from-behind victory in a contest that lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes.
"That's the most incredible game that I've ever been a part of," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Oakland had scored five times in the sixth to take a four-run lead, but the Royals crossed the plate four times in the final two innings to send the game to extra innings.
The A's then put themselves in front with a run in the top half of the 12th, only to see the Royals score twice in the bottom half to secure their first postseason win since 1985.
"Everyone is screaming at the top of their lungs," said Eric Hosmer, who scored the tying run in the 12th after a triple. "I think we feed off their energy. You get a couple guys on base, you hear the crowd, everyone is on their feet like that, you feed off that energy. This team, this city, this crowd, everybody, they've showed no quit."
The victory may have taken Yost off the hook for his dubious use of the bullpen in what could have been a pivotal sixth inning. With starter James Shields at just 88 pitches, Yost opted to lift him after he put two runners on for rookie starter Yordano Ventura, who threw 73 pitches on Sunday, rather than Kelvin Herrera.
Ventura proceeded to give up a three-run homer and before the inning was done, the Royals trailed, 7-3.
"You know, when we have these games, we map out our pitching, and we try to cover all scenarios. If something happens early, we've got (veteran starter Jeremy) Guthrie. If we get it past the fifth inning, we're going with our power arms. ... We wanted to bring the gas for the sixth, and we wanted to bring the gas for the seventh with Herrera, Wade (Davis) and (Greg Holland) with a one-run lead. It just didn't work out."
Now they face a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team that steamrolled their way to an AL West title, going an MLB-best 98-64, to get back into the postseason for the first time in five years.
Things looked bleak, though, for the Angels on Aug. 20 when emerging ace Garrett Richards was lost for the season with a knee injury. However, rookie Matt Shoemaker and veteran Jered Weaver picked up the slack for an Angels team that eventually won the division by 10 games.
Shoemaker has his own injury concerns, but the ribcage strain that caused him to miss the final two weeks of the season appears to he healed and he should be ready to go in this series.
Los Angeles split six games with the Royals during the season with each team taking two of three in their ballpark.
This is the first postseason meeting between the Angels and Royals, former division rivals in the American League West from 1969-93.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
1. RUN, RUN, RUN
The Kansas City Royals don't hit a lot of home runs. In fact they hit the least of not only all the playoff teams, but their 95 home runs were the fewest of any team in baseball.
In fact they were the only team in baseball this season not to hit over 100 home runs.
So, they have to find other ways to score and that was in full effect on Tuesday, as the Royals stole seven bases in the win over the A's. Of the seven swipes, five of those players eventually scored.
Overall the Royals had an MLB-best 153 stolen bases on the season, while the Angels ranked 17th in caught-stealing percentage at 26.9 percent and allowed the ninth-most stolen bases with 106.
Kansas City is the definition of small-ball baseball and that'll have to continue if it wants to move on.
2. GIVE THE BULLPEN A LEAD
What made Yost's decision to go with Ventura when he did so odd on Tuesday was that he had what has been the best bullpen in baseball at his disposal.
Regardless if you thought he pulled Shields too early, Ventura never should have been the one to get out of it. Later Yost would state that he didn't want to use Herrera for two innings, but he eventually threw 1 2/3 innings.
Kansas City's bullpen trio of Holland, Herrera and Davis combined for a 1.28 ERA and 258 strikeouts in 205 1/3 innings in the regular season. The nearly- historic group went 72-1 in the regular season when leading after seven innings and 79-1 when leading after eight.
They more than make up for an average rotation and may have found another star in 21-year-old Brandon Finnegan, who pitched to a 1.29 ERA in seven appearances in September.
Yost showed some faith in the 2014 first-round pick on Tuesday, letting him throw 2 1/3 innings in the win over the A's. He may have allowed what was the go-ahead run in the 12th, but he also only gave up one hit and struck out three.
Watch him in this series.
3. WHO WILL STEP UP IN THE ROTATION?
The downside of playing in the wild card game is that now Shields is likely unavailable until Game 3 on Sunday in Kansas City.
So, who is going to step up?
Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie may get the first chance in Game 1.
Guthrie, 35, has never pitched in the postseason despite his 11 years in the majors. He's pitched well down the stretch, with an 8-2 record and 3.42 ERA in his last 12 starts.
Danny Duffy had one of the more underrated seasons in the league this year. Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Duffy pitched to a 2.53 ERA in 31 appearances (25 starts) this season.
Duffy might be the Royals' next ace, but Yost could use him as a long reliever in this series to bolster that corps even more.
So if that's the case you'd have to think Yost would hand the ball to Ventura for Game 2. Despite his ineffectiveness in the wild card game, the 23-year-old righty had been brilliant lately. In his last seven starts, he's gone 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA.
1. IS SHOEMAKER HEALTHY?
Nobody answered the bell for the Angels in the wake of the Richards injury more than the 28-year-old rookie Shoemaker.
Shoemaker won his final seven decisions and was 9-1 over his final 11 games with a 1.49 ERA. In all, Shoemaker made 20 starts, going 14-3 with a 2.89 ERA in those games. He also won twice in relief, and his 16 total victories set an Angels rookie record.
"Matt Shoemaker saved our season," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got to be the story of the year for our team, and it might be the biggest surprise in the league. Matt's been a guy who has always had to prove himself. Even this year he had to prove himself. But he got the opportunity and he's made the most of it."
Shoemaker did most of his damage when the Angels needed it the most, right after Richards' injury. Still, he hasn't pitched since Sept. 15, but if he can be a serviceable No. 2 to Weaver the Angels may go a long way here in October.
The knock on the Angels is their rotation, but remember Scioscia won it all in 2002 with a rotation that barely averaged five innings and gave him two quality starts in 16 postseason games.
2. JOSH HAMILTON
It's a new season for Josh Hamilton.
Injuries limited the former AL MVP to just 89 games this season and he missed 21 of the Angels' last 22 games because of shoulder and other upper-body injuries.
However, like Shoemaker, he's declared himself ready to go. So after hitting cleanup for most of an injury plagued season in which he batted .263 with 10 homers and 44 runs batted in, he will likely bat seventh and play left field in Game 1 Thursday night.
"We'll probably bat him down lower to where he'll have a chance to swing the bat and contribute," manager Mike Scioscia said, "but not too much pressure to where if he's not quite locked in it will make a big difference in our lineup."
Hamilton missed most of September in his MVP season of 2010 with the Texas Rangers and thrived in the postseason that year, claiming an ALCS MVP Award. However, the rust showed in his first series and he only had two hits in 18 at-bats in the ALDS.
3. THE STAGE IS YOURS MR. TROUT
Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball since he stepped on a big league field in 2012. Now, after two disappointing seasons from the Angels he gets to showcase his talents on the postseason stage.
Trout is likely headed toward his first AL MVP award this season after another tremendous season, as he hit .287 to go along with a 115 runs scored, while setting career-highs with 36 home runs and 111 RBI. However, he did lead the AL with 184 strikeouts.
"Trout is a special player," Angels teammate and three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols said. "Players like him don't come often, maybe once every 30 or 40 years. This city is blessed to see a young player like Trout."
Trout could not have asked for a better opponent in his maiden voyage into the postseason. In 19 career games against Kansas City, Trout is hitting .361 with seven homers and a 1.154 OPS.
With Derek Jeter gone, MLB needs a new face. It's going to be Trout, but a big October would absolutely seal it.
PREDICTION: There is no better story in baseball right now than the Kansas City Royals. The Angels might be ripe for the picking, but the Royals aren't the team that is going to beat them. I have to admit I am banking an awful lot of this prediction on the fact that I think Trout is going to shine. Plus Shields won't be able to go until Game 3 and by that time the Royals could be fending off elimination. I just don't see how KC's starting staff is going to contain the Angels' lineup. And I do think Shoemaker is healthy. Either way the fact that Weaver could potentially pitch twice tips the scales in the Halos' favor. Not to mention they are just better.
ANGELS in FIVE