Angels don't meet expectations in Game 1 of division series

Angels don't meet expectations in Game 1 of division series
Angels players can only watch as the Royals close out a 3-2 victory in 11 innings during Game 1 of the American League division series on Thursday night in Anaheim. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The happiest place on Earth on Thursday night was supposed to be just a mile or so down the street from the Happiest Place on Earth. The best fireworks were going to be at the Big A.

That's because the Angels, with the best record in baseball, were at home and rested and confident and ready to go in the first game of a best-of-five American League division series. Yes, they were playing a determined group of Kansas City Royals, but most signs led to the expectation that they'd light that baby up.

But all that went out the window when a No. 9 hitter, a local guy from Chatsworth High named Mike Moustakas, hit a home run in the 11th inning off relief pitcher Fernando Salas.

It was the first time in Royals history that they had hit a home run in extra innings in a playoff game. Remember, this was the team with the fewest home runs in the major leagues this season.


And so, the sold-out crowd filtered out of the exits with doused expectations and heavy hearts. This is a five-game series, not seven. Losing the opener at home is a scary deal for Angels fans.

The game was tighter than the cork on a bottle of wine. The Angels wore out the Rally Monkey. Also the 45,321 fans.

It also wore out people's patience. The game took 4 hours 5 minutes and was a prime example of why retiring Commissioner Bud Selig wants things done to make games move along faster. This one gave him a template.

As things got tighter at the end, the pitchers seemed to throw more to first than to the plate. The Royals seemed to have a strategy to slow things down against the top Angels players, especially Mike Trout. It looked kind of like an NBA coach calling a timeout to freeze a player about to shoot free throws.

One especially effective tactic was multiple visits to the mound by the Royals catcher. They had more meetings out there than the United Nations.

Nothing came easily against a team that was still flying high from one of the more incredible baseball games ever played, their 9-8 win in 12 innings Tuesday night in Kansas City in the AL wild-card elimination game.

They beat the Oakland Athletics in that one and flew immediately to Anaheim for the ALDS. Rumors are that they didn't use an airplane.

At this stage, the Royals deserve to file a complaint with the wage-and-hour people.

An example of the game's drama was the Angels' eighth. It was what is known as a fans-tear-their-hair-out inning.

Chris Iannetta, who had one of two Angels hits at that point — and one of the two Angels homers, along with David Freese, that had allowed them to hold a 2-2 tie — worked a walk off reliever Wade Davis. That might have been as much self-defense as anything. Davis was throwing mostly 95 mph and up.

Leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun, trying to sacrifice Iannetta to second, worked the count to 3-1 and then popped up a bunt to third base.

That was OK. Trout, the best player in the AL, was up. He was due, 0 for 3 at that point, still looking for his first postseason hit.

He swung and missed twice and looked overmatched by Davis' hard stuff. Then he fouled a few off and eventually worked a walk.

So it was runners on first and second, Albert Pujols up, fans gaga. Davis got ahead of Pujols too, and Pujols popped a 1-2 pitch into short right field, where second baseman Omar Infante gathered it in.

Now, two outs, two on for Howie Kendrick. Or as he has recently become, Kleanup Kendrick. Two innings before, he had come up with two men on, two out, and hit a shot to right field on which Nori Aoki made an incredible running catch near the wall.

This time, it was less dramatic. Kendrick fanned.

The Angels had the fans on the edge of their seats again in the ninth. Gordon Beckham, who had pinch-run for Freese in the seventh, started things when his back foot just got tapped by a pitch. Erick Aybar put down a perfect sacrifice bunt and the Angels had a man in scoring position with one out.

But Josh Hamilton struck out, looking horrible in the process, and the fans booed him and his huge salary lustily. Then C.J. Cron walked and Iannetta bounced a ball that went off the pitcher's glove right to the second baseman.

The longer the game went, and the further the Angels got from their now used-up relief pitching stars — Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen and Huston Street — the more dangerous it appeared to be. Then in came Salas and out went the victory.

The game ended, perhaps fittingly, on a popout by Hamilton. More boos.

Ten minutes after the game ended, a gathering of perhaps 100 Royals fans crowded around the visiting dugout and chanted and celebrated.

The Royals were everything they were expected to be. They don't beat you. They just keep nicking you until you bleed to death.

Four games to go. Probably enough blood still left in their veins for the Angels to bounce back.

But oh, my. This Royals team can certainly be a pain to great expectations.